Ian McEwan at the Y

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007 | All Things, Books, Events

Tickets to see Ian McEwan at the 92nd Street Y were sold out well before the Tuesday night event. I’d secured my own spot months ago, and thought this appearance by “the supreme novelist of his generation” (as dubbed by The Sunday Times of London) a thrilling finale to my season of Unterberg Poetry Center Reading Series events.

McEwan was in town to promote his 13th and most recent novel, On Chesil Beach, which was published in his native U.K. in April, but which arrived in the United States just that day to generally favorable reviews.

Colum McCann, Esquire magazine’s “Writer of the Year” in 2003 and himself the author of two short story collections and three novels, introduced McEwan in adulatory terms, as a master of finely observed detail, richly fulfilling Vladimir Nabokov’s vision for literature as expressed in A Guide to Berlin (1925):

….to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the kindly mirrors of future times; to find in the objects around us the fragrant tenderness that only posterity will discern and appreciate in the far-off times when every trifle of our plain everyday life will become exquisite and festive in its own right: the times when a man who might put on the most ordinary jacket of today will be dressed up for an elegant masquerade.

McEwan seemed to shy, ever slightly, under the praise as he took the podium, and after a few droll remarks, proceeded to read three lengthy excerpts from his novella about two educated, British virgins on their highly fraught wedding night in 1962.

What is it about posh British accents? (Note to self: McEwan himself reads the On Chesil Beach audiobook, which unfolds over just 200 pages, as he noted, “almost in real time.”)

The audience sat riveted as McEwan’s lilting tones underscored the lyrical beauty of his language in setting the scene and laying bare the characters’ inner worlds. To be able to write like this! After almost 45 minutes, we — like at least one of the book’s protagonists — were left wanting more.

The post-reading Q&A with McCann covered the usual topics — McEwan’s childhood, his inspirations as a writer, his writing process – all of which the author tackled with considerable self-effacing charm. As at past events, there were submissions from the audience on white index cards. Although I had not intended to purchase yet another book, the temptation proved too great: I slipped out about halfway through the questions to pick up just one more from the tables outside the Kaufmann Concert Hall, joining the throng of devotees already lining up for the signing.

Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan

McEwan will not be touring the United States to promote On Chesil Beach; during the interview, he dryly observed that he had not toured to promote Atonement, which went on to become his best selling work, leading him to the conclusion that his personal appearances may actually have a depressive effect on book sales. Tonight’s reading at the Y would be his only major U.S. appearance.

Instead, in a unique marketing move, McEwan has teamed with famed Portland independent bookseller Powell’s Books, to launch their “Out of the Book” film series. The “On Chesil Beach” documentary collages film of McEwan shot over four days in England and the United States, commentary and footage of the book’s locale, and discussions with lit editors, critics and fellow writers. The 30-minute film will be screened at independent bookstores in 54 cities and towns across the country.

Press for this book/film tour has been quite positive; I was disappointed to miss the June 15 New York City event — so much to do, so little time! — which included a literary panel discussion and an after party at Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction. The DVD is available for purchase through Powell’s, though, and I was thrilled for this rare opportunity to meet McEwan in person, and did not at all regret adding another volume to my ever-growing pile of books at home.

Ian McEwan dedication

There's 1 comment so far ... Ian McEwan at the Y

June 20, 2007

I will finish Atonement one day, just not today.

Go for it ...