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DNF after 100 pages of this joyless slog through - well, what was the point of it anyway?

DNF after 100 pages of this joyless slog through - well, what was the point of it anyway?

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Two words: Ian McEwan. IMHO, a master of the English language [why I requested this book].

An epic, sprawling tale beginning with the end of WWII, when then 11-year-old Roland Baines has his life turned upside down. Relocated from Tripoli [his father was in the military] to an English boarding school--at 14 years-old, he meets a piano teacher, Miriam Cornell--who turns his life upside down.

The story covers nearly 70 years and reveals Roland's deep scars. He marries Alissa; she abandons him and their very young son, Lawrence. The consequences are at the core of the novel [but so much more].

This novel covers much territory and has a vast scope. To wit: the Cuban Missile Crisis, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chernobyl, climate change, the pandemic and even January 6th! [Seems like many current novels have added the pandemic to the storyline.] But basically, it's Roland's story: his wounds, his various travails, his parents and his own parenting, his extended family, interests, jobs [pianist, poet, greeting card writer, etc.], wives, his listlessness and aimlessness.

Many side stories dug deep--particularly Alissa [more so in her later life], but also her parents' stories/histories and the White Rose movement in Germany. And his mother's story! [no spoiler from me].

Often I would have preferred not so many zigs and zags [more so at the beginning] and towards the end, I thought it more linnear. Very little humor to lighten the heaviness.

The language: [a few instances]

"hated her progressively"
"whose cheeks hug in swags"
"scribble of knuckle hair"
"He was plausible within the digital age, like a man in cunning disguise, but he remained a citizen of the analogue world."

Sometimes I just had to stop and contemplate the deeper meaning behind the words.

I figure McEwan is about the same age as Roland--what does this mean?

So... I enjoyed/admired, but was not enthralled. A worthy, slow-paced read.

Piano lessons--as depicted on the cover? Likely, life lessons. What did Roland learn--or not?

Recommend with caveats: slow and dense.

3.75, rounding up.

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This epic that McEwan has crafted is beautiful and vulnerable. We follow Roland from age 14 while he’s at boarding school navigating his first sexual relationship (with a much older woman) through the end of his life. He never achieves professional success, but comes to terms with the choices he’s made, and realizes that such success was perhaps never the point at all.

McEwan’s writing is so engrossing that I often thought about the characters and looked forward to reading about them throughout the entirety of the book. Some scenes probably could have been eliminated to make a more concise plot without sacrificing the book’s overarching story, but that’s my only complaint. Roland shows us that our perspectives vary over time as we grow older, and our choices are influenced both by our relationships with others and to the world at large. His story is tragic, but not hopeless.
Highly recommended.

Many thanks to Netgalley for the advance copy.

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A solid return to form by McEwan. Fascinating character and great story. Some of the older giants of literature are still producing good novels and it is wonderful to see.

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As a huge Ian McEwan fan, I was pleased to receive an eARC of his latest novel, Lessons. While I can’t say this was one of my favorites, McEwan’s writing is so beautiful it still was a joy to read. McEwan’s non-linear approach to narrative is one of the many reasons I always enjoy his work. The story follows Roland from post-WWII childhood to pandemic old-age; from his abuse and manipulation by his piano teacher through his series of failed relationships to the birth of his son to his wife disappearing to finally finding peace and acceptance. The journey unfolds during some of history’s monumental moments, and yet is an intimate exploration of how those moments affect us in deeply personal ways. Like all McEwan novels, Lessons leans toward epic, with many characters weaving in and out of Roland’s life. His journey through his life is punctuated with attempts at escape, but ultimately always reflecting on how one’s personal reactions to events affects all around us. Are our personal feelings of rejection, remorse, anger, sadness, elation ever truly our OWN? How do we navigate our own private emotions without those emotions effecting those around us? While I really enjoyed the novel, I would not rank this as my favorite amongst his work. If you are new to Ian McEwan, I would not start here.. Thank you to @NetGalley for the eARC.

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This b9ok is not going to be for everyone. If you can get through the beginning abuse of power and remember the time period, you might like this novel. For me , it was a pass.

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Epic. Roland Baines experiences decades of global woes from the Suez Crisis to the Covid-19 pandemic. Creeping authoritarianism, our plummet into global warming, a never ending pandemic, the squandering of life and resources in immoral and unjustified wars . . . all provide the backdrop for Roland's struggle (sometimes humorous, sometimes not) in his day to day life.

Throughout the book I was immersed in the personal stories of the beautifully written characters but, in the last chapters, the author skillfully converges  "every looming disaster in the world" into a brilliant distillation of unlearned lessons hurtling us ever closer to extinction. I had to reach for the tissues countless times, not so much for the sad or poignant scenes, but for the beautiful articulation of my own fearful assessment of our future.  This all sounds dark and depressing but it's irresistible entertainment from start to finish. You will be rooting for Roland straight away. Wouldn't we love to see Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead in a mini-series?

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Ian McEwan's latest novel, "Lessons," might be his best book yet. It starts when the eleven years old Roland Baines is sent to a state boarding school in England. The Cuban Missile Crisis looms over the world, but "James Hern, the stern but privately kind housemaster, did not mention in his evening announcements that the world might soon be ending." A much more significant impact on the boy is inflicted by his piano teacher, Miss Miriam Cornell, who becomes fascinated by Roland's youth. As a child, he doesn't see himself as a victim of sexual abuse but feels chosen and different from other boys at school. His piano lessons became his first life lessons.

I thought the novel might very well be titled "Rings" – as in tree's growth rings. After the center ring of Roland's premature sexual initiation, the successive rounds of life grow - they're new while holding to the old ones deep inside. The novel brings the events in a non-linear way, but because of this, its flow is natural and easy to follow:  just like our memory is not linear. This is also a story where the reader can't resist the thought of "what-ifs ." What if Roland was more driven and determined to develop his extraordinary piano gift and become a concert pianist, instead of the hotel piano player, insisting on playing more jazz that the guests wanted to hear? What if he hasn't been distracted by other things in life and continued writing professionally, not just pouring his thoughts into journals and reading passionately? What if he put his tennis skills to better use than becoming a tennis instructor?

And, of course, the main question - what did his life amount to? His first wife, Alissa, decides to leave him suddenly – and leave their baby son, not even one year old – to "find herself" and become a writer. She does become one of the best contemporary German writers. Her books are brilliant - Roland has to admit it - and she probably couldn't have done it if she stayed with Roland and their son, as, in her opinion, the everyday mundane chores would define her as a mother and wife. Just like the piano teacher decided to follow her needs, Alissa did the same. However, in her situation, she is admired, and her books, in fifty languages or so, feed people's imagination, not initiate police interest like in Miriam's case.

The well-known saying, a curse disguised as a  blessing, "may you live in interesting times," proves so true in "Lessons ."Like so many of us, Roland tries in his limited way to control what's happening around him. When the catastrophe of Chernobyl occurs, he wants most of all to help his child and rushes towards the closest pharmacy because "as only the well-informed knew, potassium iodide protected the vulnerable thyroid against radiation" – but of course, he's too late, everything is sold out. His little way of dealing with the unthinkable mirrors the similar efforts of all of us. The personal intertwines with global, and sometimes the results are pretty humorous. When the Berlin wall falls, and he is there, looking for his wife, moving with the crowd, he is mistakenly taken for an East Berliner. The reporter asks him:

 "It's a fantastic day. How do you feel?
"I feel fantastic."
"You've just crossed no-man's land, the notorious Death Strip. Where have you come from?"
"London."

Meandering through Roland's second marriage (which tragically didn't last long), the novel later transitions into Covid lockdowns. Roland is in his seventies. Once more, he tries to do things that seem reasonable, thinking "only a fool would show up in hospital at the emergency department, complaining about his heart. And go down with the plague inhaled from some unmasked moron wandering about the waiting room."  And once again, such a train of thought gives him a sense of control.

We follow Roland Baines on his life journey, so beautifully told by the author. I feel that this novel's protagonist can be seen in all of us – his joys, his worries, and the way he's trying to navigate difficult times. There is just one shot at living one's life, and lessons might not be learned. We live it in a way that might not be the best, but who's there to judge what the best is?

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I had to abandon this book, not because of the author or the story. The writing style was really uncomfortable for me and I found myself dreading to continue. Thanks, anyway.

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DNFed at 10%
This was the first book by Ian McEwan that I tried to read. I've watched the adaptation of Atonement and have heard lots of praise for the author so I was genuinely excited to read this book.
But unfortunately, I've mixed feelings about the writing style. It is good but it is not making me connect to the story or the characters at all. I'm not at all curious to know what happens next or about Roland's life so it is best to DNF.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me an e-ARC.

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Lessons is the first book by Ian McEwen that i have read. I was eager to delve into the story of the much lauded author. While I found his writing itself to be much in his command, I did not connect to the characters, I tried to push on feeling the next bit may be where it gets it's hooks into me, however this was not the case. The chapters wander between time and character leaving untethered bits strewn about.

I have no doubt that there will be those who love this book, I was left feeling indifferent. This resulted in my not completing the book, which is a rarity for me. This is hard for me to write, but I did promise to provide my honest review. I do thank NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ARC.

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Lessons by Ian McEwan is a coming-of-age novel that actually starts with Roland Baines’ Grandparents and parents, and moves thru
his years at a questionable boarding school, the abuse by a teacher that scars him for life, causing him to pass up opportunities, and build regrets. Intermittently the author tells of events from the headlines immediately post WW2, through the current pandemic. As Roland’s wife has just abandoned him and their baby boy, Roland must find a safe place away from the effects of Chernobyl while searching for his wife, One of my favorite parts was Roland’s obsession with the Berlin Wall and it’s victims and the lifelong friendships that result. If I have one complaint about this book, it might be that it is too long. I enjoyed the throwback to the historical events as all were in my lifetime. But there were times, especially in the beginning, that seemed to drag. Then again, you can never have too much of a good thing, and Ian McEwan’s writing is certainly a good thing!
#Lessons. #NetGalley

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The most interesting thing about this is the time span that our protagonist lives through and how much he experiences from being a 14 year old during Bay of Pigs to a young parent during Chernoybl to an elder when the COVID pandemic hits. Otherwise, its an incredibly slow moving and meandering character study of someone very ordinary and boring. It jumps around a lot and especially in the beginning really made me feel off-balanced rather than sinking into caring about the M.C. While I love a slow, character driven story and have enjoyed others from McEwan, I can't say that I'd recommend this to any but the staunchest fans.

Thanks to the publisher for providing an ARC through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

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This novel is an expansive story covering the lives of many people over a timespan covering a multitude of decades. There is no denying the exquisite prose of McEwan and his ability to weave characters and situations into a solid book.
The reader meets the main character, Poet Roland Baines, as he's waking from a dream like state. Memories of his dominatrix-like piano teacher when he was 11 years old gets the story off the ground. We will go back to those days but first he is reminded his wife has abandoned him and their baby son. Oh, and then there is a news report of a nuclear accident and the cloud is moving in their direction.
As he prepares for the inevitable poisonous gas he reminisces about his parents, his childhood, his wife and in a Forrest Gumpish sort of way, the many historical markers that left an impression on his life.
Although I count McEwan as one of my favorite authors I'm beginning to believe that for me, his shorter novels work best and, to this day, many have left a lasting impression. The wordiness of Lessons taught me a thing or two and that may be the point of Lessons. Life itself is a lesson.
I'd give it 3 1/2 stars but NetGalley doesn't allow 1/2's so I'd say this novel falls somewhere between 3 and 4 stars.
Thanks NetGalley, the author and publisher for allowing me to read this upcoming novel. It is very much appreciated.

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I unfortunately could not get through this book. As a fan of McEwan's other works, I was excited to get the opportunity to read Lessons and give my thoughts on it, but around halfway through, I ultimately made the decision to stop reading this book. Reading it felt like a lot of work, which I don't necessarily mind in a book, but in order for me to be willing to put in the work, I need to like and care about the characters, which I just didn't with these characters. I just didn't care about what would happen to Roland as I kept reading.

The writing itself is good, despite the book being slow going. While this book was not necessarily for me, I didn't hate it, I just felt indifferent about it.

2.5 stars rounded up.

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I have always had a love/hate relationship with Ian McEwan's book, some I totally love and others I never got past the first few chapters. His newest offering, Lessons, fell somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, and definitely a little more towards "like". The story is told over the lifetime of Roland Baines and related the events in his life to important world events. I really enjoy McEwan's writing style and exquisite characterization, but felt there were times, in this book ,where it was just a bit too unnecessarily wordy.

If you are a fan of epic novels and especially like any of Ian mcEwan's work, then you will find this book well worth your while.

3.5 rating!

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I am grateful to NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

‘Lessons’ is the story of Roland, the protagonist and narrator of Ian McEwan’s latest novel. Roland reflects on his 1960s boyhood and then later as he grows up, his life from the 1970s until the present day. While it is set mostly in England, world and regional events as well as more local events, provide the background to the story and in part, explain actions, decisions and choices made by the characters. Events such as the threat of nuclear war, the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union, Islamic terrorism, European and American political upheavals and finally a global pandemic.

These events, while global, are portrayed as having meaning beyond simply background to the plot. They colour Roland’s memories and in essence, his life. The books beginning is based mid-life for Roland, with Alissa, his German-born wife suddenly disappearing. Eventually we come to understand she has abandoned her son and husband to pursuing a career and life of her own.

Subsequent chapters take us through Roland’s early life, in particular his time at an English boarding school and an affair with a piano teacher. This key event is presented as having influenced much of his subsequent life and choices, particularly the bad ones, he has made. Later chapters take us through Roland’s life, outcomes from decisions good and bad, up to the disappearance of his wife and beyond to the present day.

Themes recur throughout the book, in relation to Roland’s and Alisha’s lives and the lives of their parents. Lost or missed opportunities, issues of work and education, family responsibilities, individual choices. Along the way, the reader learns details of the parents lives, in particular their experiences before, during and after World War Two. Plenty of blame is apportioned to the parents for difficulties in Roland and Alissa’s lives. Justified or not, the reader can make their own decisions.

Roland’s youthful, indeed underage affair with his piano teacher, is recalled frequently throughout the book, in part to explain his actions, thoughts and behaviours. The question arises whether he is a victim of a crime and damaged for life. Or possibly a willing participant, eager to blame his later misfortunes on events during his boarding school days. Roland ponders has status as victim and considers this as the reason for his shortcoming in life. Roland also ponders his ex-wife who has gained the type of success and acclaim he may have achieved had circumstances been different.

Earlier chapters of the book are engrossing. Factual events recalled often needed a detour to google more information. German resistance organisations and certain European artistic movements, all play a role in the story or at least as background event to lives.

The later chapters of the book, tell the story of growing older, and ageing, at first with regard to their parents, then later to Roland and Alissa themselves. Once again, their lives are played out against a background of world events, both present day and in the past. The author chooses to denigrate British Prime Minister Thatcher in one of the final chapters of the book, blaming her for misfortunes not only during her time as PM, but also for events decades after her death.

Although the book sometimes takes a tangent to the main plot, these side stories provide interesting reading and are thought provoking. For example, the divided city of Berlin, before the fall of the Soviet Union, is the scene of several events. Given the current war in Ukraine, it is timely to remember just how widespread, intrusive and cruel the Soviet system was to ordinary people in East Germany. The author rightly questions the admiration of the Soviet Union from the United Kingdom’s political Left during the 1970s and 1980s. One cannot help but think of parallels with the relationship between Germany and Russia over recent decades which has contributed to war in Ukraine today.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I can recall enough of the global events to appreciate the significance they might have brought to someone at the time. It is a book that makes you stop, or at least slow down, think, take stock and continue reading. A thoughtful, provocative and memorable book. For younger readers, the books characters and plot possibly may not resonate, with background global events being in the far distant past. However, on reflection, current day events in Ukraine and Russia certainly provide a parallel of sorts to historic concerns of nuclear war and Soviet aggression.

While the main characters are not particularly pleasant, their lifestyle choices are intriguing as are their motives, thoughts and relationships. Roland and Alissa are memorable and believable. They both apportion blame widely for misfortunes. While both wasted or squandered opportunities for better or at least different lives. Individual choices for each of them have made their lives what they are, ending up in vastly different places and circumstances. For better or for worse.

The background events, relationships and lifestyles of the characters, combined with the incidents portrayed, make this book a real pleasure to read. I wish the author every success with publication.

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DNF at 21%.

<i>Lessons</i> focuses on the life of Roland Baines, a man who has lived through many of the major events in the latter 20th century. Through him, we see these events as they unfold and how they affect Roland.

Right off the bat, I'll admit I've never read any of McEwan's other work, although several have been on my to-read list for years. I didn't really know what to expect going into this book, and I think in some ways I'm glad for that. It's clear that McEwan has a command over prose, and the chapters flip back and forth through time easily.

My biggest issue (and the factor that made me DNF this book) is how meandering the book is. Perhaps this is remedied in later chapters, but when I reached an extended chapter specifically about Alissa's mother's past, I just found I was absolutely not interested. And it's not a small section you can easily skip over; it's interspersed with details about Roland and Alissa that I was actually interested in. But once I was brought out of the story for that long, it just didn't feel worth it for me to stick with the book, which was disappointing.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book, but it also hasn't turned me off from reading the McEwan books already on my list. If you're a die-hard fan, you'll probably be reading this anyway, and if you're not, I think it could go either way for you.

Thank you to Knopf and NetGalley for providing a copy for review.

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I got hooked at the beginning of “Lessons” and cared about what would happen to Roland and Lawrence. The early life material also pulled me in although the child abuse committed by Roland’s teacher and the abandonment by his parents were ruinous to Roland’s emotional life and painful to read about. The details of Roland’s childhood when he lived with his parents in different countries was wonderfully written. Those times are described in such a vivid way that I really felt like I was there. And when Roland is basically dropped off at boarding school in London at age eleven, I keenly felt his sense of unreality, grief, and helplessness...experiences that continue in his adult life. I found the long descriptions of international crises to be too much.. They slowed the book down. I’ve read five of the author’s other books and loved them but, sadly, I didn’t enjoy “Lessons” enough to recommend it.

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The book covers the life of Roland from 14 to 70 years old, shaped not only by his surroundings but also world events. What lessons does one learn from school, parents, others one encounters through life and the world around us? How much is shaped by world events? A challenging read.
Thanks to Netgalley for a copy.

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