Cover Image: Lessons


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Masterful! I've had an up and down relationship with Ian McEwan's novels, but this one scales the heights. Although it took me a long time to read (it's chunky!) I didn't begrudge the author a single moment of my time. At once both intimate and epic, Lessons is a book that will stay with me for a very long time.

Roland Baines' long life is laid bare to the reader as he reflects on his loves, his regrets and the events that shaped him. As he's a keen observer of world events, we are able to contrast the individual with the global, and see that - really - Roland's life is pretty small. Apart from a couple of defining episodes of his life involving relationships with women, it's rather ordinary. He watches on as the world changes around him, except for that one time when he's literally in the thick of it - which, when you think about it, is pretty typical for any ordinary person.

I admit it took me a while to warm to dear Roland. With a largely chronological story arc overlaying McEwan's characteristic back-and-forth in the detail, the early chapters focus on Roland's childhood, and I felt a little detached (but still curious) from his concerns and especially his behaviours. But as I got to know him better, and he grew up, I wanted only good things for him, to the point where his steady march into old age produced a little reader anxiety in me. My advice would be to hang in there and give Roland a chance to show you who he's going to become.

This novel has incredible scope and has left me with a strong desire to explore and understand modern history better than I have until now. It's also made me want to go back and fill in some gaps in my reading of this author's work, because what if there are more like this one and Atonement (a firm favourite) waiting for me?

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This was GORGEOUS! I absolutely loved this century spanning work with writing that was an absolute joy to read. The length and breadth of Lessons provides a comprehensive study of how generations process life experiences of trauma and joy. I struggled to put this book down despite heavy topics and learned so much throughout my reading. Not everyone is likable but they are richly described, believable, and true.

I highly recommend McEwan’s latest work if you’re in the mood to amble through a life. The telling is very character driven as we follow Roland Baines and those close to him through a lifetime and beyond. Very reminiscent of many other stories but with a spark and drifting connection that makes the story fresh.

Thank you so much to #netgalley for the ARC and #librofm for the ALC in exchange for an honest review.

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Lessons by Ian McEwan is a lengthy novel that takes the reader on a personal and historic journey through the life of Roland Baines beginning when he’s 11 years old. The novel is set in England and Germany and encompasses the post-WWII era through the pandemic.

We come to understand how Roland’s personal life experiences and traumas as well as world events change the trajectory of his life. Roland is a thinker and often questions his life choices and his inability to take any action to change or improves his life’s circumstances.

This novel is slow moving and therefore, challenging to read. Roland is not an admirable character initially and it takes the entire book to understand his inability to pursue his passions or have any ambition. However, he grows through the book as does his ability to have meaningful relationships with women, his son and step-children, and his grandchildren.

As usual, McEwan has written a very thoughtful novel that makes the reader think through the impact that their own decisions and actions have made on their life and the “lessons” learned along the way.

Thanks to Netgalley for this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Quite a story of one man’s life covering the last 70 years. The novel includes many huge milestones that will go down in the world’s history like the building and then the fall of the Berlin Wall all the way to the Covid pandemic. It is very reflective causing readers to consider how much of their lives are choice and how much the result of outside forces like upbringing, economic status, interactions with others, religious beliefs, friends, geographic location, political climate, etc. The protagonist’s story is both tragic and filled with forgiveness, love, and hope.

Thanks to NetGalley and Alfred A Knopf Publishing for the ARC to read and review.

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Roland Baines is the titular student, first at the tender age of 9 when his piano teacher at boarding school, Miss Miriam Cornell, preys on him sexually; and then as an adult when his German conversation teacher Alissa Eberhardt marries and then abandons him, along with their 7-month old baby, Lawrence. This sprawling tale encompasses the lives of Roland and Alissa's parents, siblings and half-siblings also, with perfect pacing and details about their homelands and adopted countries ranging from England, Libya, and Germany.

As so often is the case with Ian McEwan novels, even beyond the riveting plot and striking characters, philosophical, critical and rhetorical issues abound: the environment, warfare, AI, nationalism, white supremacy, for example. I never wanted this story to end, but I ended up loving how it did anyways.

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Lessons is the richly detailed coming of age story of one Roland Baines, and so much more. Born in 1948, his life unfolds against a backdrop of global events (WWII, Cuban Missile Crisis, Berlin 1989, even a pandemic, etc.) as he pursues his education, travels, marries, becomes a father. But this book is vastly more than that. Weaving across time, it pulls in the incredible narratives of his in-laws, parents and other assorted characters, chronicling the challenges faced and decisions made. Very deep, contemplative passages as Roland explores his past, and the randomness of his fate.

It's no accident that a favorite discourse of Roland's is to wonder at the many paths that might have been taken, how casual incidents or decisions (not to mention indecisions) opened doors and blocked other avenues. How another Roland might be floating through his life in an alternate universe: "The accidental fortune was beyond calculation, to have been born in 1948 in placid Hampshire, not Ukraine or Poland in 1928..."

As the past becomes lost and distorted, Roland starts keeping a journal: "Nearly everything that happens to you in life you forget. Should have kept a journal. So keep one now. The past was filling up with blanks and the present, the touch and scent, the sounds of this moment at his fingertips –‘The Girl from Ipanema’– would soon be extinct."

"If his life so far was a failure, as he often thought, it was in the face of history's largesse." Lessons reflects the beauty, poignancy and even absurdity of life against history. I was captivated.

My thanks to NetGalley and Knopf for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Huge amount of thanks to NetGalley and Knopf for an advance copy of this book.
Lessons is the story of Roland, all of the stories that have shaped him into the man he is in present day. Lessons is an appropriate title as we’re taken through Roland’s 70 years and each lesson he learns throughout his life.
It’s a long, interesting book with many historical events being covered, which I found enjoyable. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres.
Highly recommend!

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Lessons is ultimately the story of a man, Roland Baines, and the world he inhabits — personal and intimate, but also global and impactful. McEwan draws in points of world history that created a noticeable scar on the flesh of humanity: WWII, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, Chernobyl disaster, the rise and literal fall of the Berlin Wall, the birth of the Internet, 9/11, Brexit, and the COVID-19 pandemic. And, for Roland, dealing with global events as well as personal ones, McEwan weaves in and around in a meandering and fluid timeline.

Many reviewers have, I know, quit this one either early on or well into it. And I get it, Lessons had a tough and obscure entry point — often when it appeared to open up, the narrative would seemingly shut down or shove the reader out. In fact, it wasn't until well over halfway through that I felt a steadier connection to Roland and his story. Even then, I felt as though the story almost didn't know where it was going and might wander off at any moment.

While McEwan's writing is as dependably excellent as ever, the narrative does lose itself quite often and overstays its welcome during certain global periods. If Roland played a more active role in his own life, it might have made a better balance of personal and world-affecting, but things only happen to Roland and he barely ever responds. While his dopey passivity might be true for many in real life and his own character, that does not mean it necessarily makes for an engaging or enthralling story.

The problem is that Roland isn't an Everyman; he's no man. A mere wisp of a full person … ghostly in his own story with historical mile markers as waypoints.

This is, for the majority of the book, a fog of a story. But I do wonder then if that is reflective of the man around whom this yarn had been spun? Roland comes blazing through childhood and early adolescence full of potential. Is his meandering life that follows just reflective of his personality, inevitably? Or is it tied more closely to his childhood trauma, a trauma it takes a long time to acknowledge as such. His sexual abuse, perpetuated by his piano teacher, is tangled up with teenage discoveries of sexual experiences…his joy, the thrills, his part-boy / part-man self unable at the time to see it clearly for the horrible behavior exhibited and carried out by his teacher.

It's a decent novel…in scope and attempt it's near The Heart's Invisible Furies. But in execution, it's somewhat lacking. Precisely what, remains difficult to name. It's missing a beating heart, or if you prefer a different metaphor, it's missing a soul. The problem really is in the decision-making McEwan had to have gone through in order to move Roland through his own life's span. There's a huge opportunity McEwan misses, or more accurately avoids. The resistance Roland has for bringing his piano teacher Miriam Cornell to any level of accountability beyond confrontation is natural, but the complete assumption that it has been fully expelled from him (by his own accounting) is grossly miscalculated. Intentional, by McEwan, I assume, but a complete disservice to the story...and the reader.

A giant and catastrophic societal problem with sexual abuse, where the abuser is an adult female, usually a teacher, and the abused is an underage male teen, has forever been disregarded as equal to the destructive abuse were the genders reversed. Often with the bizarre attempt to misclassify it as a consensual and mutual affair, by way of bandying about awful reinforcing phrases of what teenage boy wouldn’t want that? Or, even worse, when it's looked at as a scored point for the boy. Whereas the male teacher, engaging in an underage sexual encounter with a female teen student, is quickly labeled a pedophile, accused of grooming, and is easily fired and prosecuted.

I kept hoping, as I continued to read, that Roland's abuser would be addressed appropriately, and acknowledged fully and formally, but McEwan holds Roland to an old and infuriating school of passivity. At bare minimum, I wanted Roland to come to terms with this scarring time in his life through therapy, or some level of self-reflection and inner exploration once he had acquired his adult lenses and the benefit of hindsight.

By his own admission early on, Roland admits that he never gave any thought to ask the other boys learning piano from Miss Cornell if they received the same abuse. Again, decades later, when the opportunity arises by way of a poem he had written years before alerts a police officer to the criminal affair and opens a case, Roland never once responds, by word or action, to the officer's statement, "If you came forward, it would help others. Men and boys."

Sadly, Roland remains so entirely passive, the guts of the novel and Roland's story are laid bare as the tale of a specter of a man, grumbling through his own life, occasionally rattling chains, but otherwise, quiet in the attic of his own existence.

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Lessons by Ian McEwan is a character study set against the historic events of our time. The main character of Roland has a lot of baggage from his youth and when his wife leaves him everything comes rushing back to him. This book is well written and at the same time just wasn't what I was expecting. All in all a well written novel by a talented writer that will appeal to readers who value a character study over being more plot oriented.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy of Lessons in exchange for an honest review.

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I didn’t finish the book. Very unlike me not to keep going but I just couldn’t interest myself in the characters. It seemed like a repeat of other novels I have read.

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I can usually finish a standard length book in a few days, but I read Lessons over a couple of weeks. At first, I found the book a bit slow and couldn't help but wonder where the plot was supposed to go. As I moved through the (incredibly long) chapters, I began to appreciate the wordy, meandering approach to main character Roland Baines's story.

The book covers the bulk of Roland's life from his childhood to his seventies. Moments of history are painted alongside his years, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, and the COVID-19 pandemic. I enjoyed how these events added a little color to the book.

The primary drivers of Lessons were Roland's unusual relationship with his piano teacher as a boy at boarding school and many years later, his wife's sudden disappearance which left him to care for his infant son by himself. Both of these situations had a lasting, lingering impact, leaving him in a restless state for much of his life.

This was a very character-driven novel, so the lack of constant action may not be for everyone. However, I grew into it and ended up really enjoying this story of Roland and his family.

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Lessons by Ian McEwan is an interesting book, but not one to my taste. I have been thinking for days how to write this review. I didn’t care for the writing style: it was kind of stream of consciousness third person and I found it difficult. The protagonist was pretty self-centered and maybe even in the throes of depression. It ws simply not appealing.

I was invited to read a free e-ARC of Lessons by Alfred A Knopf, through Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are mine. #Netgalley #AlfredAKnopf #IanMcEwan #Lessons

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Anther masterpiece from great author, Ian McEwan. Through Roland’s life Ian McEwan reflect all the important moments from the Cuban crisis, different wars, the fall of the Breslin Wall, the twin towers, and all Roland goes through, his family, his dreams, his secrets, his marriage, his friends, his son and how everything that happens to us, shapes what we become. The audiobook is great.

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In his latest novel Lessons, Ian McEwan takes his reader on lifelong journey with Roland Baines. Roland's life is permanently altered when he is a student at boarding school . Roland's weekly piano lessons are taught by a young woman who is romantically interested in Roland. She seduces Roland and their relationship is consummated when Roland is fourteen. A life full of lessons await Roland and McEwan explores them masterfully. Among Roland's experiences are love, marriage, fatherhood and desertion. Lessons is a thoughtful book and definitely one that will teach the reader about living.

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This may be one of my favorite Ian McEwan books of all time and the good news is that it's also his longest. It's a brilliant story of a man named Roland Barnes and the good and the bad that befalls him. It has politics, literature music, curent and passed social issues all rolled into one and how it affects a man and us as humans. The writing is supberb and it's one of those book that you savor as you read it. You read a few chapters at a time, reflect, pick it back up and your back into McEwan's world again. I love when books do this. This is McEwan at the top of his game and what's funny is that he said in an interview that this may be his last novel. Please say it ain't so!! Perfect for reading groups and book clubs Thanks to NetGalley and Knopf. Buying a physical copy because I loved it that much!

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Ian McEwan can surely write and this complex book is a clear example of what he can do. It's the story of a man but it's a the story of an age.
it's a well written book that kept me hooked and I found it fascinating and thought provoking.
I wouldn't define it entertaining but it's surely intriguing even if it's very slow at times.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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I have mixed feelings about the latest Ian McEwan.

‘Lessons’ is the life story of Roland Baines, from his youth in Libya in the 1950s to old age in the 2020s. The women in his life are at the heart of this novel and the parts describing these relationships are the strongest in my opinion. For instance, there is the (for the reader extremely uncomfortable) sexual relationship Roland has with his piano teacher when he is only 14, which has an enduring impact on Roland’s life (and reminded me of On Chesil Beach, Atonement and Enduring Love). And years later there is his wife that suddenly leaves Roland and their 7-month baby.

The human insights, into ageing, into life choices, are the novel’s strongest part and I wish he had limited himself to that. Unfortunately however, there is the constant need to connect the episodes in Roland’s life with the sweeping historical developments of the age, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to Chernobyl to Brexit to Covid. Not only did I not learn much from the rather banal observations on these events, they also make the novel long and the tone pedantic (although on this last point I may have been influenced here by the know-it-all tone of the narrator of the audio-version).

The reading experience reminded me a bit of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart: another endless novel the point of which is still largely unclear to me but which was somehow enjoyable enough to keep reading. Here, the writing is better and often enough there are beautiful nuggets and atmospheric scenes, a lot of them set in Germany, that made me nostalgic for my favourite McEwans…this is not one of those, but a good read nevertheless.

3,5 rounded up.

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Unfortunately I couldn't get into this book. The writing style just wasn't for me, and I found it hard to differentiate between passages about the past, and what was happening in the present. Perhaps one I can try again at a later date, as I really wanted to enjoy it.

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I was so intrigued by the sound of this book and it didn't disappoint! Also love the cover. At times slow but worth it, it's essentially the life of a man that covers well known world events and moments in his life. Seemingly easy concept but I imagine very difficult to execute.

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I’ve always been a fan of big, epic novels and I liked this one. I thought it was interesting that so many real world events were in the story. Thanks for letting me check it out!

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