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Lessons

By: Ian McEwan
Narrated by: Simon McBurney
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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

The mesmerising novel from Ian McEwan, the bestselling author of Atonement. The world is forever changing. But for so many of us, old wounds run deep. Lessons is an intimate yet universal story of love, regret and a restless search for answers.

While the world is still counting the cost of the Second World War and the Iron Curtain has descended, young Roland Baines's life is turned upside down. Stranded at boarding school, his vulnerability attracts his piano teacher, Miriam Cornell, leaving scars as well as a memory of love that will never fade.

Twenty-five years later, as the radiation from the Chernobyl disaster spreads across Europe, Roland's wife mysteriously vanishes and he is forced to confront the reality of his rootless existence and look for answers in his family history.

From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Covid pandemic and climate change, Roland sometimes rides with the tide of history but more often struggles against it. Haunted by lost opportunities, he seeks solace through every possible means—literature, travel, friendship, drugs, politics, sex and love. 

His journey raises important questions. Can we take full charge of the course of our lives without damage to others? How do global events beyond our control shape us and our memories? What role do chance and contingency play in our existence? And what can we learn from the traumas of the past?

©2022 Ian McEwan (P)2022 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"The supreme novelist of his generation." (Sunday Times)

"McEwan is one of the most accomplished craftsmen of plot and prose." (New York Times)

"A true master." (Daily Telegraph)

What listeners say about Lessons

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What a disappointment :(

I am a fan of MacEwan, and rushed to listen to this, his latest novel. I almost got through the first Part before I could bear no longer the flat, dispirited world in which the protagonist struggles, with the extended families of himself and his absent wife standing critically behind him as if in a group photograph. The effect is of a literary still life. I can't of course be sure of this, but it seemed to me that the whole narrative was weighed down by autobiographical episodes from MacEwan's own life that he needed to expulcate as a sort of therapy. . .

What a pity the text is so long, rambling and boring, when the author might have produced a very good short novel (like Chesil Beach) based on the kernel of the story, the absent wife and the husband left holding the baby. I thought the scenes and references to father and baby were vivid and touching. I wanted to know why the wife left and if she might return, but just didn't have the patience to plough on past Part 1. MacEwan missed a trick here.

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Seems depressingly superficial to me …

Fluent enough writing, easy listening for a while. But seems depressingly superficial. A catalogues of episodes, reminding me of a superannuated conjurer pulling one rabbit after another out of worn out hat. I’ve still got hours and hours ahead and find myself growing increasingly pissed off with the cliches/stock characters/well made but thoroughly uninterestingly episodes. It’s dire. “We have to forgive the fathers or else we’ll go mad but first we must remember what they did” really ………..

Contrast with Any human heart (Boyd) or The museum of innocence (Pamuk) etc.

2 people found this helpful

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Well written.

Well written and narrated, but too long. I got tired of listening to this book.

1 person found this helpful

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Pretentious

The pretentious writing of a self-obsessed man, who has no understanding of women and no depth. I struggled to finish this and would not have done had it not been for my book group.

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A hundred years long story

The end of the book mentions a story ‘one hundred years long’ and I have to say that is exactly how I experienced reading this novel. It reads as a biography and, if it had been declared as the author’s own history, it would have felt much less laboured and long drawn out. Instead, we have the forensically observed life of the unknown Roland, a bland and directionless character who seems to make one bad choice after another. Why should we be interested in his tedious life, his insufferable ex wife, his ludicrous piano teacher or his pretentious friends? The novel has had rave reviews so either the reviewers haven’t actually read it or have plumbed its shallow depths and found gold. Top marks though to the reader whose excellent delivery at least made listening to it something approaching bearable.

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Not his best

Like other reviewers I found this turgid and hard to get through. I'm a huge McEwan fan, but this one has depressed me (and I've only got through the first section). I'm going to return it. I'd looked forward so much to this coming out, but it's far from his short sharp shocking best.

It feels in need of a really solid edit. The tale rambles on, hints at appalling abuse, flails about all over europe and time... and has a dark sludge-like atmosphere that's not for me. reviews in the dailies had hinted this was as good as atonement or enduring love, but it's a long way from that. it's not even as evocative as the cement garden.

That said, there's lots of moments that are gorgeously written. but the obsessive circularity of the protagonists thoughts is too grim for me to plough through. Such a shame. I've read a few books written in lockdown by fave authors that are very different from their usual output - i'm guessing that just like the rest of us, the last few years have been hard to work through.

1 person found this helpful

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Wonderfully observed- brilliant narration

Ian mcewan has an incredible gift for describing the emotions of a child - I recalled so many subtle waves of emotion- sadness, grief, fear - that he so minutely and poignantly touches upon. And the narration was beyond superb. Absolutely wonderful.

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All sorts of lessons

Expertly crafted storytelling, exposing a whole range of lessons true and imagined.
Remarkable work.

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Ian McEwan never disappoints!

Great story to follow. Clean prose, well researched. Impecable reading. McEwan never disappoints me.

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Wonderful

Beautifully written intertwined fictional memoir of a life supposedly not lived with contemporary political history. Surprisingly uplifting. It’s actually warm and lively and intellectual all at the same time. Brilliantly read by the narrator too.

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  • Frank
  • 15-11-22

wonderful

masterpiece. a very personal and moving story of growing old, against a backdrop of European history, and the foolishness of people and countries not learning anything from experience.

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  • Merlin
  • 08-10-22

Accomplished and entertaining

Pretty standard McEwan, which is to say very accomplished and entertaining. As is often the case, I find it a little annoying how his characters often tend to be ultra talented or fortunate. In this case, for instance, the main character is a gifted pianist who marries a brilliant novelist. But M certainly knows how to tell story; and he is great at finding the exact words to describe a person, place, time, culture, or mindset. Somewhat weak on dialogue, though. The reader is fine without being exceptional.

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  • Tim Martin
  • 23-09-22

Vintage McEwan

What can I say, everything I expected and more. I'm already looking forward to a second, slower parse. Nicely narrated by Simon McBurney.