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Works by Steven Crossley

Associated Works

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) — Narrator, some editions — 38,521 copies
Dracula (1897) — Narrator, some editions — 34,010 copies
A Room with a View (1908) — Narrator, some editions — 10,918 copies
Kidnapped (1886) — Narrator, some editions — 10,470 copies
In the Woods (2007) — Narrator, some editions — 10,074 copies
Me Before You (2012) — Narrator, some editions — 9,752 copies
Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (1885) — Narrator, some editions — 9,682 copies
Lord Jim (1900) — Narrator, some editions — 8,850 copies
Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) (1889) — Narrator, some editions — 7,511 copies
The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2009) — Narrator, some editions — 7,506 copies
A Darker Shade of Magic (2015) — Narrator, some editions — 6,830 copies
To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998) — Narrator, some editions — 6,621 copies
Regeneration (1991) — Narrator, some editions — 4,437 copies
Oscar and Lucinda (1988) — Narrator, some editions — 4,080 copies
When Will There Be Good News? (2008) — Narrator, some editions — 3,900 copies
The Ghost Road (1995) — Narrator, some editions — 2,800 copies
Sovereign (2006) — Narrator, some editions — 2,375 copies
I Let You Go (2014) — Narrator, some editions — 2,049 copies
Revelation (2008) — Narrator, some editions — 1,961 copies
The Wedding (1996) — Reader, some editions — 1,647 copies
Another World (1998) — Narrator, some editions — 948 copies
Enchanted Glass (2010) — Narrator, some editions — 879 copies
The Great Stink (2005) — Narrator, some editions — 698 copies
Beyond Seduction (2007) — Narrator, some editions — 630 copies
Crisis Four (1999) — Narrator, some editions — 582 copies
Mastered By Love (2009) — Narrator, some editions — 581 copies
The Edge of Desire (2008) — Narrator, some editions — 564 copies
I Am Mordred (1998) — Narrator, some editions — 411 copies
The Proposition (1999) — Reader, some editions — 353 copies
The Liars' Gospel (2013) — Narrator, some editions — 248 copies
No Longer a Gentleman (2011) — Reader, some editions — 241 copies
To Hold the Bridge [short fiction] (2016) — Narrator, some editions — 108 copies
The Maiden Bride (2000) — Reader, some editions — 87 copies
Bonnie Prince Charlie: A Biography (1709) — Narrator, some editions — 82 copies


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Common Knowledge




Set in an alternative version of 1982, Machines Like Me tells the story of Charlie Friend, a thirty-two-year-old man who spends 86,000 pounds to buy Adam, one of only twenty-five artificial human beings. Charlie begins a relationship with his neighbor Miranda, a doctoral student in history who is ten years younger than him, and together they set out to program their new robot.

Naturally, Adam's emotions and intellect complicate the relationship between Charlie and Miranda. Adam has sex with Miranda, for example, falls in love with her, and spends much of his time writing haikus about her. Charlie uses Adam to make money on the stock market. Increasingly, though, it seems that Adam is making decisions and judgments independently, and naturally this causes trouble.

Machines Like Me is a novel that could have been great if only McEwan had followed through on this uncontrollable aspect of Adam's character. Adam could have been like Baxter in Saturday (2005), an element of chaos thrown into a system of order, and it would have been interesting enough. Instead, like with Adam from The Children Act (2014), the reader is presented instead with a textbook-style moral dilemma that is so artificial it numbs the mind.

The moral dilemma comes in the form of a miscalculated subplot involving Miranda's past. When she was a teenager, her best friend was a young girl of Pakistani origin, Mariam. Mariam was raped by a man named Peter Gorringe, shortly after which she committed suicide. As revenge, Miranda had seduced Gorringe, claimed it was rape, and he had been sent to prison. Upon his imminent release, he plans to kill her as revenge. All this is brought to light by Adam.

While Miranda's desire for revenge is understandable, this particular behavior is bizarre and unrealistic - no person would actually carry out their revenge in this way (and in fact, Gorringe later admits that he never even connected Miranda's actions to Mariam's rape). McEwan means for this whole situation to be a moral gray area, like Adam's transfusion in The Children Act, but the whole construction of this whole sequence is so poorly conceived and insensitive that the book lost all its energy at this point.

Another bizarre and unnecessary subplot involves a young boy named Mark, whom Charlie sees being mistreated by his parents at a local park. When Charlie intervenes, Mark's father challenges him to take the boy and raise him as his own. Although Charlie takes him up on this offer, child services quickly intervenes and takes the boy away. Later, however, Miranda somehow develops an attachment to the boy, and when Charlie proposes marriages, she makes it a condition of acceptance that they adopt Mark. Again, this behavior is simply not believable, and seems to be introduced purely as an exercise in ethical reasoning.

Lastly, there is the disappointing behavior of Adam himself. This could have been an amazing book if it had turned into a power struggle, or a game of manipulations, in which human is pitted against robot. Maybe it could have even have gone in the direction of McEwan's early novel The Comfort of Strangers, with Adam turning into a hypnotic sadist who dominates the lives of Charlie and Miranda. But no, Adam's will to power is turned into yet another moral lesson, a dubious meditation on how superior robotic ethical reason really is.

The book is not without its strengths. For most of Machines Like Me, I quite enjoyed the story, especially the alternative history that McEwan weaves. Much of it is like the present in terms of technology, thanks largely to the postwar flourishing of Alan Turing, who seems to be one of the main reasons for shifting the setting back in time. The other reason is the way that McEwan is able to rewrite the Thatcher years and the rise of neoliberalism, offering the reader an alternative Britain in which the effects of economic rationalism are mitigated by a different set of political and ethical values.

As always, McEwan's sophisticated writing style and interest in using the novel as a vehicle for exploring complex ideas is admirable. Too often in his more recent novels, though, this engagement with ethics feels forced: let's face it, McEwan is at his best when he allows something of the immoral, the chaotic, the plain old evil to gain pride of place in his work. Otherwise, it's just too damn preachy and unrealistic.
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vernaye | May 23, 2020 |


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