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New Yorker Fiction Review #140: "My Purple Scented Novel" by Ian McEwan

Issue: March 28, 2016

Story: "My Purple Scented Novel" by Ian McEwan

Rating: $$$

Review: I don't have a lot of spare time these days to mull over the finer points of literature (okay fine, I probably do) but I do have time to tell you that I loved this story with an all-abiding passion that knows no earthly bounds. Hyperbole, yes. But not by much.

I haven't read anything by Ian McEwan since I randomly found myself reading and loving Amsterdam when I was about 18 years old. The book left a big impression on me for the dark and elegant way McEwan portrays a years-long friendship between two friends who are also sort of rivals, and how their friendship-cum-rivalry unfolds over the years.

Ironic, because that's exactly what McEwan does in this finely-tuned and eminently readable story. The absolute best thing I can say about this story was that it took me to that "place" that literature should take you, at best: It makes you forget you are reading. Boom. McEwan's character so enthralled me in his web of deception that, for a few pages or just even a few moments, I was inside the story. That's magic, and in a world of many competing art forms that fiction has to contend with, we shouldn't forget that's what fiction is meant to do. 

As someone who has studied good writing and the craft of writing (or at least attempted to seriously for a couple years) I have found it's been easy to get swept up into this whole notion of "Fiction as Self-Improvement" or some such hogwash; this book is going to make me a better or more smarter person. While I don't deny there are novels with such overpowering and resonant and intellectually stimulating ideas that they have changed the world, I think as "intelligent" readers we sometimes lose sight of the fact that fiction was meant to entertain, for ***** sake. The Odyssey has one-eyed monsters in it. Hamlet has a ghost in it. I could go on.

Anyway...Ian McEwan, wherever you are: Badass story, man. Thanks.


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