Member Reviews

It took me days to get to 24% and I still did not like the protagonist. It dragged on while focusing on some uncomfortable moments. I like this author but this book was not for me. I wanted to like it. It just was not going to happen.

This ARC was provided to me via NetGalley. Opinions expresses are completely my own.

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Thank you to NetGalley for this advanced copy. We follow Roland through his life from a 14 year old boy at a boarding school to a 70 year old man who is looking back on his life. It's a story of how we are shaped by what is happening around us both intimately and what is going on in the world. Roland is abused as a 14 year old boy by a teacher and this shapes how he loves. His wife leaves him and their baby boy unexpectedly and he is left to raise this boy on his own. She goes off to pursue her writing career not wanting to become her mother who stayed and resented her daughter for ending her writing ambition.
This is a hard one to review. I loved Roland's storyline throughout his 70 years. I did get lost in the historical storylines weaving back and forth throughout.

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It's an age old question on whether a writer needs to even embellish a story about a perfectly ordinary person and a (mostly) perfectly ordinary life--shouldn't how we live and go through the world be interesting enough? At least we mat think so about our own lives. In "Lessons", Ian McEwan follows a family, and more specifically a young boy, Roland, born during the 1940s in England, and basically his journey through life. He has some potentially somewhat unusual occurrences (affair with a piano teacher at a young age, short marriage to a future major writer), but generally it's an ordinary life. This gives the author space to judge and expound on many issues, including our current day situation of war, pandemic, climate change, and numerous other topics. Sometimes too much at length. Unfortunately, there is no there, there. No conclusions are drawn, no plot devices followed. It's a perfectly modern story in our imperfectly modern times. I couldn't give away spoilers if I wanted to give them away. He's born, things happen, he goes on. The devil is in the details, I suppose, as well as a more interesting story. We all know a Roland, his friends, lovers, family--each is portrayed in a very realistic archetype. But is that what we want to read about?

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I love McEwan's writing and his latest book does not disappoint. I was drawn into the at times uncomfortable story from the opening pages. Okay, maybe it is more than at times uncomfortable... I was uncomfortable for Roland for much of the story.

Dear Roland.

We meet Roland in an awkward moment, his wife has abruptly left him and their child - Lawrence, who is a frequently crying baby. And the story then goes back a decade or so to an 11 year old Roland heading to boarding school. And the story progresses from Roland's memories. The memories are what provide the most discomfort, as Roland is sexually abused by a teacher at the boarding school. This abuse happens over a long period of time. There is no way this abuse would not have an impact on a person, and this baggage Roland carries with him for the remainder of his life.

McEwan anchors us into the story with the historical timeline. We experience the Bay of Pigs, a divided Germany, Thatcher policies, Brexit, and yes, even COVID. The story is well written and so engaging. I cheered for Roland... I wanted him to step away from his baggage. And when he begins to see what effect it has had on his life and make a new path forward... it is exhilarating!

If you likeMcEwan, you will love Lessons! I highly recommend!

I am grateful for the digital ARC of this book that I received from Knopf and NetGalley in return for my honest review.

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Ian McEwan’s “Lessons” is a lengthy historical and literary novel set in England and Germany during the period beginning with the post-WWII years and ending with the pandemic. It chronicles the life of Roland Baines and his relationships with the three most important women in his life: the older piano teacher who becomes obsessed with him when he’s 11 and begins a two-year affair with him when he’s 14; his first wife who deserts him and their newborn son to become Germany’s most celebrated novelist; and his second wife who discovers she has terminal cancer the day after they decide to marry. Along the way, Baines experiences and is impacted by various historical events including the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, England’s shifting political sands, the rise of nationalism, Brexit, and Covid-19.

My reaction to the novel was initially mixed but, on the whole, favorable. I thought the beginning difficult, particularly since it shifts a lot between time periods; and because Roland initially seems not very admirable, or even likable. While he has many talents—one of them extraordinary—he seems to lack the passion and ambition to capitalize on those talents. And he’s not very honest, especially with himself.

But as the novel progressed, Roland grew on me and I found myself caring, quite a lot, about what happened to him and the people he cares about, especially his son.

If there’s a central message to the novel, it’s one that’s difficult for me to articulate. (I suspect that there will be a host of differing opinions as to what the central message is and, if so, I equally suspect that “Lessons” qualifies, and will be hailed, as art.) Nevertheless, it explores many themes, including sexual and spousal abuse, victimization versus personal responsibility, natural talent versus drive and ambition, choices and their consequences, “the road not taken,” family, abandonment, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Far from being light entertainment, “Lessons” is a novel that will require thought and commitment from its readers. On balance, I’m very glad to have spent the time reading it.

My thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing me with an electronic ARC. The foregoing is my independent opinion.

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I’m not sure this book is quite the full four stars for me but there were moments that really worked in this long sprawling novel about the life of one man, Roland Baines and the events, both personal and wider world, that affected his decisions and therefore the course of his life. A lot of the time I was just waiting for something more (I don’t know what) and I didn’t ever find it a chore to read but a lot of the peripheral characters and their stories would’ve made a far more interesting main character for a novel. I found myself wishing I could read the novels of Alissa Eberhardt, Roland’s wife who leaves him and their baby son to pursue her literary career or the story of her mother Jane or Daphne, Roland’s friend and later wife. The novel jumps about in time a bit but mostly it’s linear from Roland’s childhood in Libya, postwar to boarding school in England (where he is abused by his female piano teacher, a significant event that changes the course of his life and affects his relationships with women) to his marriage to Alissa, parenthood, friendships, relationships, to now and old age. It covers a lot and perhaps that’s why I’m finding it hard to review. The introduction describes it as a masterpiece, maybe but I wouldn’t call it that. I have been much more emotionally involved in other Mcewan novels, so was a bit disappointed with this one.

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Ever since reading “Atonement” I have been McEwan fan and was pleased to be given the opportunity to read an ARC of “Lessons.” But, this book is a huge disappointment.

McEwan’s central character, Roland Baines, narrates his life including the two primary events. That of teenage sexual abuse by teacher which derails his adult life, and the desertion of his wife leaving him to raise his infant son alone. That’s it for plot, the rest of the nearly 500 pages are filled with Ronald’s memory of historical events and how these events impacted his life.

Being the same age as McEwan I remember most of these events and several had significant influences on my own life, but found reading about them to be a slog. The placement of Ronald in some of these events, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, feel contrived to give the character more gravitas than he deserves. Unfortunately, McEwan brings nothing new to the discussion of these momentous historical happenings.

I pushed through reading the last 100 pages because I believe in reading an entire book before writing a review. The three star rating is generous. It is going to be interesting to read the professional critics opinion of “Lessons.”

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Lessons, by Ian McEwan, is a brilliant novel replete with haunting storytelling and dazzling writing. Spanning decades of American history and global events, it is one boy's journey to self-discovery, love and eminent manhood. Life is difficult for Roland Baines, whom we meet at 11-years-old, and times are tough in the world around him. Through music, friends and literature, he manages to survive years of heartache, becoming a man on a mission when more unbelievable things happen to him in adulthood. Kudos to Mr. McEwan who expertly spins of tale of astonishing detail, taking the reader on the ride of a lifetime.

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I received a digital ARC of this book from Knopf and NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Ian McEwan's latest opens with a scene that will prove to be an experience that will shape the rest of the main character's life. As a teenage boy, Roland Baines will be involved in an inappropriate sexual relationship with his much-older piano teacher. For the rest of his life, that pivotal moment will have an impact on his relationships with others and the choices he makes. We follow him for decades and watch how he weathers changes in politics, in his family, and in the world. The constant throughout his life is that illicit relationship; again and again he returns to it and questions whether he made an active decision to engage it in or if he was an innocent victim. He questions whether his life trajectory would have been different had it not happened. Like Schroedinger's cat, he ponders the simultaneous possible lives he could have led had he made different decisions at key moments.

This novel is vast in scope and skillfully written. As a reader, it challenges us to consider whether those moments we think of as defining and life-changing are really that.

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Ian McEwan brings his masterly talents to the ambitious tale of a man's life--spanning decades and generations, as well as cataclysms (both large and small). Not quite as immersive as some of McEwan's earlier, hypnotic novels, LESSONS is an opportunity to appreciate McEwan's spectacular talent in crafting characters and in his incomparable prose.

Many thanks to Knopf Doubleday and to Netgalley for the opportunity and pleasure of an early read.

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This book is an epic of one man's life spanning over 70 years. The novel spans one man’s lifetime from the 1950s to the 2020s. I struggled with this book. It had a very slow start and it didn't pick up pace in the middle where it was very much required. It was a very interesting expercience to read a book that was so different from the others I have read before. I was extremely surprised to read this. Such an incredible read. It was fun to read about his relationships and how his relationship with his piano teacher at the boarding school affected his future relationships. The main character grew up with parents who were in the army. He moved around so much that it may also have affected his behaviour. Overall, It was a nice read and I look forward to read it again.

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Ian McEwan is an extremely talented writer. I really loved Atonement, Nutshell, the Children Act and Chesil Beach, less so with his others, as in his most recent novels, Machines Like Me or Sweet Tooth. However, as in all his novels, his use of prose is nothing less than masterful. I liked Lessons but didn’t love it. It was a very challenging read for over half the novel, but then seemed to pull me in more. The story spans over 70 years of the life of a man, Roland Baines, from World War II as a young boy to the present. Roland is obviously damaged through various experiences in his younger years, is a drifter, but yet the novel also shows his resilience and difficult personal and professional struggles to the events in his life in raising his son single-handedly and plowing ahead in spite of all the obstacles he faced. What McEwan did so successfully in this novel was chronicling Roland’s life, his personal tragedies, family and social life and the impacts on it by real life historical events, including the Iron Curtain, the Cuban Missile crisis, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, climate change, and the pandemic. Not to mention that his writing is simply beautiful and mesmerizing. His characters are the heart of this story and so well developed. A good tale but not riveting. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me an advance copy in exchange for a candid and unbiased review

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A mightily insightful exploration of human experience. Roland Baines is a character I will carry with me for a long time.

The novel's opening starts off with a terribly unsettling suggestion of child abuse. Initially, I will say, this put me off a little. I read 'Cement Garden'' and although I thought it was a brilliant piece of writing, the incestuous relationship left me feeling uncomfortable - probably the point. I am pleased I continued with 'Lessons' because the novel became increasingly more enjoyable as Roland aged.

I really enjoyed the layered exploration of one man's life on top of the last hundred years of history. I thought it worked well. Roland's life was clearly in the foreground which I thought was an effective choice.

This is a powerful novel that explores dissatisfaction, joy, acceptance and sorrow with exceptional insight. The word 'masterpiece' has been used and I fully support that. Arguably, McEwan's best yet.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC.

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This story, spanning 70 years, is the story of Roland. We follow the course of his early life spent in colonial Libya, his boarding school days, his time spent wandering including substantial periods in Germany, his short marriage and his vocation as a single father, barely making a living doing odd jobs. At a critical juncture in his life, while at boarding school, a young piano teacher initiates a sexual relationship lasting two years. As a result, he fails his O levels, needed in the UK to move on to university, drops out of school and begins a life adrift.

He lives primarily a dull, passive life especially after his son is born. His wife disappears saying that she had to go. He plays piano in a lounge, gives tennis lessons and helps write greeting cards. He spends much of his time wondering what might have been. His ex wife in the meantime has become a renowned writer. Even when he has a second chance at love with a woman he considers his best friend he can’t close the deal. There is a profound stasis to the extent that, despite wonderful writing, I was tempted to bail on this book. Nothing seemed to move and I grew more and more exasperated. An analyst might have called this counter-transference .

The mood changes dramatically in the latter parts of the book and it is, I think, the result of a late life confrontation he has with his abuser. It is there we begin to understand that the emotional flatness and lack of energy in the narrative comes from the way that Roland sees himself which in turn has resulted from his early sexual abuse. We learn for instance from the piano teacher that he was a gift pianist, capable of a solo career. He is still loved by all of the people in his life and it is after the meeting with his abuser that he feels ready for marriage. Purpose and meaning as a pater familias fill his life.

Emphasis is given on current events happening throughout Roland’s life. These events surely shaped the narrative as Roland’s actions are shaped by them. Certainly, the majority of readers will be younger than Roland. I cannot help but feel that readers who are “boomers” will get more out of this book than others. I am grateful to the publisher Alfred Knopf and to Netgalley for letting me preview this wonderful book

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LESSONS is ambitious in scope, spanning 1950-2020. Within these pages, the character of Roland comes to seem like a fully-realized person and I particularly enjoyed his relationship with his son. Introspective and socially relevant, this novel manages to be both far-reaching and intimate. McEwan's prose is well-crafted, as always. I recommend LESSONS for fans of literary fiction.

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Now that I've finished this epic novel, I ponder the title: "Lessons." The main character, Roland, is sent to a boarding school far from his parents, and a large portion of that time is taking piano lessons with particular woman who develops an obsession on her young student. I don't want to give away spoilers, but there's a lesson there. Later in life, without much thought, he proposes to a life-long friend, and realizes he should have done that much sooner. Another lesson learned.

The novel spans about 70 years, and readers get a fair amount of historical references. Basically, Roland and his wife have a baby somewhere in this 70 years, and the wife feels stifled by the marriage, leaves without warning, and becomes a famous novelist, who has no interest in staying in contact with her son. We watch Roland, and son Lawrence, more or less fumble through life always feeling that maternal disconnect.

It's an interesting novel that goes full circle, answering all the questions that simmered and brewed, and at times, one may wish less history and more answers about these characters, but by the end, all is revealed and readers are rewarded for their patience.

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Iam McEwan is one of all time favorite authors, and I have read and loved all of his books, both novels and short stories, without exception. This new book is innovative and fascinating like his other work, and I can't wait till it is published.

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Another Ian McEwan book that will stay with me long after the last page is turned. This social and politically relevant novel encompasses the lifetime of Roland Baines 1950-2020. So many lessons learned along the way, most notably those scars left after an illicit and extremely disturbing “relationship” with his piano teacher at his boarding school that inevitably haunts Roland throughout his life. It is a detailed observation of life’s many choices, relationships, failures, regrets and, of course, lessons. Based on what I have read about the authorI suspect it is semi autobiographical. But like Roland’s first wife Alissa, a successful author, says “I borrow, I invent, I raid my own life. I take from all over the place, I change it, bend it to what I need.” This has officially replaced Atonement as my favorite by McEwen. And I agree, you do look a little like Clint Eastwood. ;-)

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Ian McEwan once more demonstrates an authorial acumen for sharing about the human condition. McEwan packs a lot in a short space, and develops a rich character study.

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I was granted the privilege of reading this book through Net Galley before its expected publication in September 2022. For any fans of McEwan's writing I would encourage them to read this monumental book that covers the decades of world conflict and change over the years of my own 77 years on this earth. Reading it is a memory album for me in one aspect, but seeing events as Ronald lives them packs a heavy emotional impact.
Early on the reader is deeply invested in the school boy sent from home to a boarding school and all the difficulties that must be overcome there, in particular the female music teacher who usurps Ronald's rights of choice. Thank God we are not stuck in that erotic mire too long before we follow the young man and his experiences in Germany, his marriage and then the crisis of his young wife abandoning him with a little boy to raise. It is a long, hard fought life we are privileged to read of as he has many difficult struggles through the years.
I would classify this book as a masterpiece as it covers major world events that have impacted us all as it tells the intimate story of one man doing his best to care for his son and find happiness where he can.
Brilliantly conceived and executed!
Thank you to the author for the privilege of reading his work.
5 Stars Plus

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