Black Dogs, By Ian McEwan
I still find it odd that some (if not most) people will never re-read a book. I’ve just re-read this one because it was my first McEwan and I was so unfamiliar with his odd story structure that the essence of the book didn’t stay with me. But that was something like ten years ago. I like to think I’ve grown as both reader and writer in that time, so I knew the book would speak volumes to me now.
It does. But given that you might not have read it, a little something about the storyline.
English couple June and Bernard Tremaine are former Communists who have married immediately following WWII, Jenny their daughter, who subsequently marries the story’s narrator, Jeremy. By the time Jeremy and Jenny marry, the parents are separated, and Jeremy is fascinated with both, who use their son-in-law as a conduit to one another. By now both have forsaken communism, Bernard for something of a secular humanist approach to life, June immersed in spiritual practices. The book’s – and Jeremy’s – project is to discover the nature of their growing apart, presumably as a tool of understanding to prevent something similar from happening to Jenny and him. On the way to such understanding, Jeremy unearths the singular moment of the older couple’s division, an event occurring in France’s Midi, involving a pair of black dogs.
McEwan weaves his story back and forth in time and centers it on the heady days of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The narrator’s tone here is one of reasoned detachment, but that does little to erase the mystery of June’s experience with these black dogs, an event the Bernard didn’t witness and wishes to rationalize away.
Here the author personalizes the eternal conflict between human experience and humanity’s fascination with what might lie beyond such experience. It’s a skillful, tastefully told tale, measured as perhaps only McEwan can do today in giving us literary insight.
My rating: 19 of 20 stars