Ian McEwan is recognised by many to be one of the finest writers alive today, and has been described by the Sunday Times as the “supreme novelist of his generation.”
He won the Booker prize for his masterpiece Amsterdam in 1998, and four of his books – Atonement, Enduring Love, The Children Act, On Chesil Beach– have all been adapted for the big screen.
He joins us to discuss his new novel Lessons, which has been called “not only [McEwan’s] most epic book to date” but also “one of, if not, his finest”.
The book spans a lifetime, traversing the end of WW2 right through to the current pandemic and exploring themes of childhood trauma, memory, and history.
When the world is still counting the cost of the Second World War and the Iron Curtain has descended, young Roland Baines’s life is turned upside down. 2,000 miles from his mother’s protective love, stranded at an unusual boarding school, his vulnerability attracts his piano teacher Miriam Cornell, leaving scars as well as a memory of love that will never fade.
Twenty-five years later Roland’s wife mysteriously vanishes, leaving him alone with their baby son. He is forced to confront the reality of his rootless existence. As the radiation from the Chernobyl disaster spreads across Europe he begins a search for answers that looks deep into his family history and will last for the rest of his life.
From the Suez and Cuban Missile crises, the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Covid pandemic and climate change, Roland sometimes rides with the tide of history but more often struggles against it. Haunted by lost opportunities, he seeks solace through every possible means – literature, travel, friendship, drugs, sex and politics. A profound love is cut tragically short. Then, in his final years, he finds love again in another form. His journey raises important questions. Can we take full charge of the course of our lives without damage to others? How do global events beyond our control shape our lives and our memories? And what can we learn from the traumas of the past?
Epic, mesmerising and deeply humane, Lessons is a chronicle for our times – a powerful meditation on history and contingency through the prism of one man’s lifetime.
Please note, your first entrance voucher will include a copy of the book, and the second will cost £10 (also redeemable against a second book if you would like).