Member Reviews

I have read a number of books by Ian McEwan, liking some better than others. This is one of his books that I did not find to be interesting. The story was slow to build and not terribly satisfying.

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essons
By Ian McEwan

I am generally a fan of Mr. McEwan's books. This one not so much. It is the story of the life of Roland Baines, a life packed with life lessons as all lives are. The problem here is that Roland seems to spend his whole life bumbling from one catastrophe to another and blaming the catastrophes for the aimlessness in between.

This would have been more interesting if Roland's catastrophes were of a little more commonplace magnitude. Here we have Roland as a child living with his military father and the mother who is the object of dad's abuse. Soon enough Roland is sent back to England to boarding school, where, at age eleven, he begins piano lessons with a woman who turns out to be a pedophile and who initiates Roland into the world of sex. Once that situation resolves, Roland wastes years doing only what he chooses (which is not much) instead of applying his talents to the opportunities made available to him.

Suffice it to say, Roland manages to get into all kinds of mishaps, from smuggling records into East Berlin to having his wife of two years leave him and his infant son to follow her artistic calling. Roland's life continues on this way, in spite of all that the world outside himself tries to provide to help him.

I liked the book well enough. I just feel that Mr. McEwan tries to pile on way too many ideas and life lessons here. Roland, as a character, did not earn my empathy.

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What a book! Told from the perspective of an elderly man, it takes you from his childhood as the son of a military man, into his adolescence at boarding school and on into his adulthood as a single parent. Through every chapter, there is a piece of each of these and the supporting characters are woven in seamlessly. Every time I thought I could read 'just one more chapter,' I was drawn into more. Exceptional writing, as one would expect. A truly 5-star novel!

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Ian McEwan is one of those rare, remarkable, confident writers who can weave a cast of sad, flawed, struggling fictional characters into great global events of the last century to create an epic story that resonates long after the reader has finished the book.
The cover of McEwan's "Lessons" depicts a young child practicing diligently on the piano, but the real lessons of the story are learned by the book's protagonist, Roland Baines, over a long life, filled with pain and heartbreak, love and death and everything else that comprises life.
As a boy, Roland finds himself imprisoned, almost literally, in an appalling, controlling sexual relationship with the woman giving him piano lessons. It is his first sexual experience, and Roland is ambivalent as to how he should feel about it. Only later, as he begins to navigate through adult relationships, does he begin to understand how the experience has scarred him.
The world, meanwhile, obliviously revolves on, with Roland bearing witness to many of the landmark events of the late Twentieth and early Twenty-First centuries: the 1956 battle for control of the Suez Canal, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the rise of global terrorism, finally the Covid pandemic and its attendant social and political wars.
As a young father, amid all this, Roland finds himself inexplicably abandoned by a wife intent on becoming a great novelist -- who then, over the years, accomplishes exactly that. The abandonment, like the earlier abuse, cripples and confounds Roland. Along with the reader, Roland struggles to understand what has driven the woman he loves to suddenly leave him and a young son for life and a career in another country.
Understanding, or at least acceptance and reconciliation, does not come until much later, after Roland has confronted other demons and has finally experienced -- almost too late -- genuine love.
McEwan's range as a writer is astonishing, and his powers as a storyteller have never been on greater display. Some will find parts of "Lessons" difficult and perhaps overly academic, but the lesson for the reader is that great literature does not always come easy.

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Roland Baines grows up in Tripoli with a somewhat distant relationship with his military father, a warm but hard to figure out relationship with his mother. The influence of the other women in his life : the relationship with his piano teacher when he is just fourteen, being abandoned by his wife. There are flashbacks to the time when he is sent off to a boarding school in London when he is eleven, from the present as he cares for his baby Lawrence solely after his wife leaves him . Chernobyl has just occurred and Roland blocks the windows . Then flashbacks to Cuban Missile Crisis and where he was in his life moving forward again to 9/11 and the recent Brexit and current Covid pandemic. Sprawling describes this novel so well as it depicts world events and where he was in his life in that particular time. If I made it sound confusing moving around, you can trust that McEwan does this seamlessly. This novel is a view of a man’s life, a commentary on the world, the culture, the people in it . As big and broad in scope as it is, it is also intimate.

Life lessons, hard earned at times and not learned until years later evaluating one’s hopes and desires, lost chances. With the emphasis on world events at various times in Roland’s life, I couldn’t help but think about all of the events that are happening simultaneously at this time in our country and around the world. How will these things impact us personally as we move forward, but especially how will the future generation of young people be impacted. How has each of our personal upbringings brought us to where we are, who we are ? It’s so wonderfully written as we’ve come to expect from McEwan, a master story teller. I couldn’t quite give it five stars for lack of a connection to the other characters, but I certainly felt for Roland. McEwan fans will be pleased.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Knopf through NetGalley.

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McEwan's "Lessons" is a jam packed social novel that delves into the politics and historical events of 20th century Europe whilst also providing a glimpse into the life of writers. Absolutely loved it, McEwan never disappoints.

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What I've always appreciated about Ian McEwan's writing is his ability to create tension and make a point with an economy of language that holds interest throughout. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for me with this book that seemed to meander on forever. I actually gave up ¾ of the way through.

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Incredibly insightful, moving and thought provoking! McEwan encapsulates a life in deeply felt prose.

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This is a rich, complex story. There is so much going on, and writing is so beautiful and precise, that I found it slow going. It took me much longer to get through it than most novels I read, yet I felt rewarded enough to keep reading. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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This was my first book by Ian McEwan, I seem to have come pretty late to the party on that front. It was a privilege to read an early real ease. An epic tale of Roland, and his journey of self discovery. As he rides life’s journey of high and lows. I enjoyed how the characters weaves together, however it was pretty heavy going at points but overall I enjoyed this. And was grateful to experience this authors work.

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This epic story about a man’s life and the external events and experiences that impacted him was interesting. Family, friends, historical and current events certainly effect decisions we make along the way. In the very beginning, he is sexually assaulted by his piano teacher. I was impressed with how it was described in such a nuanced way. We aren’t even sure it happened at first. This predicates the rest of the story. It’s a very long and slow journey but good to recall these events. Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.

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Ian McEwan’s writing is always descriptively eloquent but his books, more so than others’, require wanting to go along with the journey his main characters experience. I tried to appreciate the descriptions of Roland’s journey, but I never connected with him as a character so it just didn’t come together for me. I’m leaving a review here but not on other platforms as I can’t recommend it. Thank for the opportunity to review!

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I enjoyed this book, as I have enjoyed all McEwan's novels. Here, too, he shows his ability to probe into the depths of human nature and explore why we do what we do.

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I had incredibly high hopes for this book. Ian McEwan's previous books have been on my tbr but I never got the chance to read them until I joined NetGalley and found this one. Unfortunately, I could not make it through the first 100 hundred pages. I am not someone who DNF's books regularly. However, I realized if I am going to read something, I don't want to force myself to pick it up every day and that was what was happening. I understand that it is completely unfair to review this accurately without having read all of it, but I will try my best. The underlying message of the story and the themes that McEwan incorporated into this novel is something that I hadn't read about before. These two things were woven in well, and I don't think my dislike of the book had anything to do with that. Moreover, I struggled with the long chapters and the weaving timelines that are present, I assume, throughout the entire novel. The first 3 chapters were 30 or more pages long each. I am someone who likes feeling accomplishment when finishing a chapter. However, when they are incredibly long, I begin to lose interest in the story and the characters. I found myself getting bored ten pages into every chapter and having to force myself to keep reading. Again, this has nothing to do with the author or the premise of the novel. I wish I could have enjoyed it more, but hopefully, I will soon pick up another McEwan novel and erase this saddening experience from my brain.

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Roland Baines seems to believe he has led a less than stellar life compared to his first wife Alissa who left him to become an author, but the saga from a military dysfunctional family to an incestuous relationship in boarding school through his solitary fatherhood is a stirring story. Paralleling Roland’s story from youth to his senior years, McEwan tells the story of a man constantly questioning his place in the world yet providing a strong backbone to others including his son Lawrence and friends and families while sharing the events happening in the world such as the Cuban Missile Crisis through to the pandemic and the effect it has on Baines. I felt at times there was excessive detail but McEwan really uses these details to create a scene and reach into the character’s mind so that we feel we are right there with the struggling piano playing, heartbroken man trying to finalize Daphne’s last wishes and come to terms with all of those he loves. Thank you #NetGalley for providing this ARC of #Lessons .

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I haven't loved a McEwan book since On Chisel Beach, but I adored this one. It's a big slow at first, but then I was hooked and couldn't put it down. Aside from good character studies, Lessons is a history of postwar Britain and Europe until Covid and the intertwining of world events and our personal histories. Do we just drift through life allowing it to happen to us? Is that necessarily a bad thing? Do events of our early years determine the rest of our lives? Is the world doomed? Much to digest. Highly recommended.

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I really enjoyed Atonement so was excited to read this latest novel. It takes us through the many phases of Roland's life from a young boy who is lured in by his piano teacher, to a grown man with a son who has had many partners and changes in his odd life. Spanning decades, the novel illuminates the many sides of Roland as he navigates his own life and that of history and its unexpected happenings. As I finished, I felt like my brain was full and I had lived many lives in that book! Be prepared to concentrate as it's one upon which you will need to ruminate to get the full experience!
Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

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I have always enjoyed Ian McEwan' novels as I feel he is one of the preeminent authors in the English language. The story of Lessons was intricately drawn with finely wrought characters and a broad overview of life in Britain and Germany for the last 80 years. It features an extremely ambivalent protagonist who almost sleepwalks through the 20th and 21st centuries All around him and his family, important things are occurring, but as a product of sexual abuse by a female teacher as a child, he never engages, never overcomes that damage.

His one brave moment came when he withdrew himself from his abuser’s clutches, but it was almost as if that is the one accomplishment he could do. The rest of his life is summed up by low paying jobs, the hate/love attraction to the wife who left him and became famous worldwide and serving as a punching bag for life. No one in the novel pays for their bad behavior, nt the child abuser nor the wife who abandoned her husband and child.

I did feel that Ian filled this novel with every politician, movement, and historic event that he could. Perhaps he wanted the pitiable character to serve as a counterpoint to the events. Alas, it diminished the storytelling.

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Here's another book that answers the question, how to write a contemporary narrative and include/ignore the pandemic. This is the story of one man's long complicated life against the background of world events but focused on personal moments, many not understood at the time but all playing out by the end. Many things and people are layered one on the other to create a very rich and satisfying whole. As a diehard McEwan fan, I'd say I loved Lessons more than any other of his many books except Atonement.

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First of all, Ian McEwan is one of my favorite authors, ever since I read Atonement. So I was fully prepared to enjoy Lessons,. However, I dropped it after 50+ pages (hard to say, I was reading it on my Kindle). It was BORING. Had I been reading it in a physical, analog book, I might have read further, or maybe not. Hard to say. In any case, I cannot in good conscience recommend this book. Sorry.

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