Book Review “Lessons”: The Great and the Small – The New Indian Express

Express News Service

When a novel is as thick as a brick, procrastination comes naturally. When the author is Ian McEwan, however, you’re bound to dig. Discouraging as it is, his latest novel, Lessonswell worth the long and tedious ride the author makes with his readers.

The 500-page tome has something for everyone: a beautiful love story, a broken family at the hip, a woman’s singular interest in literature, the wars that shaped the 20th century, and more.

Lessons dealing with painful memories for the most part, but it’s also about the little joys. The title refers to the piano lessons Roland, the protagonist, takes as a child as well as the life lessons he picks up along the way. If Roland had been written by a comedian, he would have been a self-deprecating character who revisits the “happiness escapes me” sentiment too many times.

But here it’s McEwan brandishing the pen and, evidently, his aim is not to make you laugh. The greatest gift that Roland possesses, however, is not to let himself be taken by the arms of anxiety. Even when he’s down, he’s not out.

There are more than two sides to every act, every decision and supporting characters Lessons you know that well enough. Secrets are selfishly kept, and McEwan slowly unravels them until he hits the ground with the truth to reveal that Roland’s mother keeps an important detail about his personal history to herself until her last breath, and his wife, Alissa, abandons him and her husband. son to become an author.

For men, the lines between work and family have always been clear and they are even praised for neglecting the latter in the name of a successful career. Women, on the other hand, never had a clear demarcation. It’s inspiring to see how Alissa doesn’t mind becoming a villain in the eyes of her son to pursue her ambitions. She wants to be great and is ready to pay the price. Meanwhile, as he jumps from hit to hit, Roland’s life remains the same, even as he falls in love with another woman.

McEwan pins Lessons to the wall of numerous unfortunate incidents and political upheavals and builds his character arcs around them, but the novel truly shines when the narratives are pushed to the margins. In Lucy by the Sea, Elizabeth Strout charts the chaos surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the vacuum created by lockdowns, and the killing of George Floyd with memoir-like skill. McEwan tackles similar material, but with the apathy of a historian. Looks like he’s taking a crochet knife to a gunfight.

Roland’s relationship with his son and stepchildren is the soul of Lessons, along with his ability to forgive those who have wronged him. He doesn’t hold a grudge against Alissa, and he actually sticks with it
a fact sheet on his growing stardom. He even urges his adult son to meet Alissa one day, but her wish is rejected. There always seems to be room for love in her heart.

Roland’s (second) marriage to Daphne also deserves long chapters. But he soon loses her to illness and is treated as just another accident that is part of the journey that is her life. These moments – small and large – are what make the narrative full of sincerity, and the many existential reflections, involving the exchange of lives, are excellent.

Let’s imagine that we are constantly exchanging places with others; we covet their riches (or minds). Envy is a cousin of aspiration, after all, and McEwan gets right to the heart of the matter.

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