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Ian McEwan: The Innocent

This is not the usual McEwan novel, if any novel can be said to be a usual McEwan novel. It is set in Berlin in 1955 and concerns British and American spying on the Soviets. Leonard Marnham is a British Post Office employee and a communications expert. The books starts with amusing culture conflicts between the British and the Americans (The British. It’s hard to make those guys at the stadium take anything seriously. They’re so busy being gentlemen. They don’t do their jobs.) But soon the two nationalities are working together, digging a tunnel in order to tap into the landlines that lie just across the border. On the personal front, Leonard is more concerned with improving Anglo-German relationships, in particular with Maria Louise Eckdorf. The work proceeds with the usual hiccups, as does his relationship with Maria. We are given enough clues to show that she might not all she says she is but, of course, Leonard does not see it. One thing he does know about her, however, is Otto, her ex-husband, who has a habit of appearing at the wrong time. It is one of his appearances that precipitates the crisis. His personal and professional life, of course, collide and things go seriously wrong.

This is not one of McEwan’s best novels but it is nevertheless an enjoyable spy story and will keep you gripped to your seat. A little McEwan self-indulgence, perhaps?

Publishing history

First published 1990 by Jonathan Cape