Monday, November 27, 2006

Ian McEwan, Atonement and the claims of Plagiarism

Ian McEwan was once one of my 'must-read' authors. Then I grew up, and somehow he didn't. I wrote on this site about his Saturday, caught in some adolescent warp of unlikely sex and violence. Writers should resolve their personal issues, edit them out of their books before publication so as to spare the public. Saturday was an unresolved potage of adolescent fears - and adolescent showing-off - that has somehow left McEwan stranded as a right-wing sourpuss.
So I had a touch of Schadenfreude today when I learned a Sunday paper has accused him of plagiarism for his Atonement. Like that buzz of rightness when Mel Gibson recently showed his true colours.
I've only read McEwan's Guardian piece today, in which he refutes his claims.
And sadly for my own sense of smugness, I'm back on his side. He clearly researches massively - and the novel he is deemed to have plagiarized was the one source in which he found what he needed. Which he claims to have duly acknowledged. Fair enough.
It shows the power of fiction that this early novel was his primary insight into what really happened in wartime nursing.
I'm doing a lot of research now into the first world war, including the role of the tunnellers. It's clear that Sebastian Faulk's drew much of Birdsong from Alexander Barrie's War Underground. Is this plagiarism? No - it's taking the trouble to root historical fiction in contemporary accounts.
I've given up on reading Ian McEwan - just as I haven't even seen Chicken Run because of Mel Gibson doing the voice-over. I don't give my leisure time to psychologically flawed right-wing establishment figures. But let the man go back to his archives. The more his books draw on the work of others rather than on his imagination, the better they are likely to be.


Blogger pundy said...

Just out of interest, are there any right-wing establishment novelists you would read? I'm thinking about, say, Evelyn Waugh and Kingsley Amis. Or if someone is right-wing (needs a definition I guess) do you think that automatically excludes them from being a "good" novelist?

3:34 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

I never got far with Kingsley Amis ... but have loved Evelyn Waugh. I dont think it's the politics so much that got to me with McEwan, but the sneering at others, the rise he got in SATURDAY out of putting down those who marched to try and prevent the war on iraq, a truly moving amalgm of so many different sorts of people. Kingsley Amis also sneered at others. I think that's a protective side of people, attacking others because they have stuff of their own they never got around to resolving.

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