“Lessons” by Ian McEwan

On Tuesday 12 March our Book Group met to discuss “Lessons” by Ian McEwan.

We had a slow start as unfortunately we couldn’t find a way of improving the sound quality for those on zoom despite everything being set to 100%, whilst bell-ringing practice at nearby St Peter’s Church was clearly audible for the first hour or so to those present in person. There wasn’t much we could do about either but hopefully the Zoomers managed to at least hear the review of Ian McEwan’s life. 

Things had happened in McEwan’s real life, both early on and in later life,  that would not be out of place in a novel – and they now provide the framework for Lessons, his most recent book.  Not everyone had read to the end – perhaps only managing a few pages…  but we had an enjoyable discussion.  We didn’t avoid the central theme of the child abuse perpetrated by Roland Baine’s piano teacher and the extent to which it had affected his life thereafter (no parallel desperate nymphomaniac piano teacher in Ian McEwan’s life though – that was his own weird creation) but there were many other aspects to the book which resonated more.  We realised that we had lived through the same decades as Roland so enjoyed the references to UK and world events even if their introduction into the novel was a bit clunky at times.  Alissa was an intriguing character – did you need to abandon and repulse your son to realise your potential as a genius? Was Roland a dull loser because he hadn’t realised his potential as a poet and musician, or was he actually a successful father and adequate at making a life for himself despite his piano teacher’s attentions? Was his role in life what in reality many women had to accept?  A collection of quotes from the book, found on the internet, also led to some interesting discussions e.g. about keeping journals.

Summing up – those present had mostly enjoyed the read. The perception of ‘flabbiness’ of the novel compared with some of his sparer earlier works may have been exacerbated by the floppiness of the large paperbacks provided by the library! We found that there were subtle lessons within the novel as well as the obvious one, so in the end it turned out to be a good book group choice.