Posted by: Corri van de Stege | November 14, 2007

Work and another book

Two weeks into a new job and I feel as if I have gone through a tunnel into a different world that I could not place at first.  I was very glad to have left behind all the politics and pettiness of my previous job, the incomprehensible venom that would at times come at you, without obvious reason, but nevertheless seemingly necessary for this world to express its own value.  At the same time of course there are always the nice people, the ones that unwittingly become caught up in the same doldrums that you have.  So, two weeks in and I’m standing up straight, busy, yes, but enjoying what I’m doing and feeling as if I am actually using my strengths, rather defending my weaknesses, if that makes sense.

So in all that I have neglected you a bit, well, I had to get settled didn’t I?  Although I did not do much writing, I did try and keep up with the reading and my thinking does not stop, ever.

So I read Ian McEwan’s The Innocent, in between, late at night and once sitting on a train.  Let me explain that I wanted to read this because of the time in which it is set, the fifties, and the place it is set, Berlin.  Berlin in the fifties, after the war, and before the wall was built.  A place where the various conquering nations came together, carving up and deciding on what was to happen to the capital of Germany, with Russia digging in and America, England (and France, but not mentioned in the book) bickering about who was more important and had a better clue as to the dastard Russians and how to get hold of their secrets.

Leonard Marnham, a young Englishman is assigned to a surveillance team that is building tunnels underneath Berlin with the purpose of tapping into Russian telecommunications.   One third through the book I did not actually like this Leonard and thought he was a wimp and could not work out why McEwan was not trying a bit harder, making him slightly more interesting, subtle or whatever and then halfway through, the novel takes a turn, begins to work better, there’s more of a focus on character development, people come across as less wooden and there are fewer descriptions of how one or the other character feels.  Maria, his lover, is beaten up by Otto, her former husband, and Lenoard’s concern appears genuine.  The part about Leonard back at home in England for Xmas, his alienation from everything there, his parents and who he was before going to Berlin, is very well portrayed and this part of the novel feels genuine, the experience that when you’ve been away in such totally different circumstances, living such a totally different life and no longer belong to where you were born or grew up, a stranger in your own country, that bit of the book comes across very well.  I know what that feels like and could not have described it better.

Leonard however does not want things to be too difficult, he fantasises about his expertise, his prowess with women, his bravery should he ever have to face up to Otto, so that when reality strikes his whole life turns topsy turvy once more and he ends up the loser. 

A good book?  Yes and no, in parts it is very well written and it hangs together, in other parts it just seems to overdo the goriness, for example in tidying up Otto’s remains, the meticulous descriptions of the carpets, the bathrooms and everything else.  I thought that that could have been much more effectively described, or shown, in one page, rather than the endless descriptions of how they felt.  I was inclined to skip, never a good advertisement for a book I think….


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