Contemporary Voice: Ian McEwan

A master in controlling time and narrative flow. A sophisticated journalistic style that is unrivaled in the 21st century. A Virginia Woolf-like understanding of daily moments of fate within the public sphere.

While contemporary author Ian McEwan does not limit himself only to these effective literary techniques, he has proven himself to be unobtrusively adept in eliciting empathy and emotion from his readers across the globe.

Born on June 21, 1948, McEwan graduated from the University of Essex with a degree in English Literature and continued his education at the University of East Anglia to pursue a Master of Arts in English Literature. During his post-graduate experience at East Anglia, McEwan discovered the creative, boundless vocation of writing, providing him with the ability to emotionally touch and challenge readers across every ocean.

McEwan’s literary career began appropriately in 1975 with an award-winning collection of short stores called First Love, Last Rites. The author’s success has only continued to increase 30 years later. In 1997, McEwan welcomed critical acclaim to his first novel, Enduring Love, and one year later, his novella Amsterdam received the prestigious Booker Prize for contemporary literature.

McEwan also received critical and popular praise in 2001 for his well-crafted and multi-perspective novel Atonement.
Set in the 1930s, McEwan uses a girl aspiring to become a renowned author as his protagonist and, in doing so, explores the difficulty in separating reality from fiction and the muddled consequences in confusing the two. Like famous author Virginia Woolf, McEwan changes narrators, only without the stream-of-consciousness effect Woolf famously utilized.

His latest work has solidified McEwan as one of the most respected and talented contemporary writers. As the winner of the 2005 James Tait Black Award, Saturday resembles Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in its setting and sense of weary anticipation toward the uncontrollable. Saturday follows neurosurgeon Henry Perowne during one day in 2003, with the unfortunate, catastrophic events of Sept. 11 still lingering in the rearview mirror of McEwan’s novel. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, McEwan has frequently spoken about the global consequences of the attacks, the developing fear of future attacks and the lack of morality and empathy in the zealous religious fundamentalists.

As a self-proclaimed atheist who subtly resembles an agnostic at times, McEwan claims morality derives from the ability to empathize and the power of imagination, rather than a set of supreme laws from what he calls sky gods.

Though he may have involuntarily received the role of the post-Sept. 11 literary voice, McEwan is a writer both readers and literary critics can rely upon for engaging plots, interesting developments and human characters, complete with character insufficiencies and admirable virtues.

His works have already entered the chalkboard-covered walls of many classrooms in both Europe and America, and many of McEwan’s writings will surely find a permanent place in the future academic canon of English literature.

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