Cover Image: Lessons

Lessons

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I was very excited to read Ian McEwan's latest novel, Lessons, and even more excited when I saw how long it was (around 500 pages - I love a thick book). Unfortunately, and I say this with a heavy heart, reading Lessons became almost a chore for me, one that I didn't like, and I decided to DNF it at 30% (this is the second book I don't finish in my LIFE, so I really tried).

Roland was sexually abused by a teacher when he was 11. Now adult (in 1986), his wife left him with a baby without an explanation. Pretty interesting so far. Then a sort of stream of consciousness starts, where Roland remembers different parts of his life, when he met his wife, his parents in law, all this mixed with European history... On paper this book seems exactly my cup of team, but in reality I never got to know who Roland was, he always seemed very far away and therefore I quickly lost interest. The writing is beautiful, but also quite heavy and didn't make me connect with the story, sadly. I'm sure this is not a case of bad book, it wasn't simply for me / for me right now. Maybe in the future I'll give Lessons a second chance and change my mind.

* I'd like to thank the author, Knopf Doubleday and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Was this review helpful?

Lessons was a beautiful and touching story and love and life. I found myself really connected to the characters and emotionally invested in the story. This is the kind of book that will certainly pull at your heart strings every single page. I couldn't recommend it enough.

Was this review helpful?

Lessons is both a personal story of a seemingly ordinary man and an epic tale of a rebuilt and ever-changing Europe and world. The story follows Roland Baines, whose life has some similarities to the author’s life, from his 1950s childhood in Libya where his father was a military officer, his years in boarding schools for boys in England, his various failed careers and relationships, marriage, fatherhood to the present.

I thought the way McEwan worked political and historical events into the plot was just as interesting as the personal marital and professional struggles of Roland. The Lessons of the title refer both to the tragic, difficult and beautiful lessons life gives you over a lifespan and the private piano lessons Roland takes at boarding school, where he is groomed, seduced and sexually abused by his much older piano teacher. The consequences of these events affect Roland in different ways during his entire life and weave through the story like a red thread.

It was a particularly moving experience to read this book in Germany, as there are several important events in the novel taking place in Munich (the devastating story about the young siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl in Weisse Rose, a nonviolent Nazi resistance group at Munich University) and in Berlin (the fall of the Berlin Wall). In a typical McEwan style, there’s a sense of menace and tension running through the book, highlighted by various political and environmental threats (Chernobyl, the nuclear threat of the Cold War, the pandemic, etc).

I found that the story was well told, but perhaps a bit too long and meandering in some parts, and a poignant reflection on memory, regret, lost chances and a life well lived. A must read for McEwan fans and those interested in a very personal (and part autobiographical) novel set against the backdrop of dramatic historical events. A great hefty book for the long and dark fall evenings!

Many thanks to NetGalley and A.A. Knopf for gifting me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

A long slow journey, but worth following through. A portrait of how long and sprawling the life of one man is, reflected through so many world events. Sometimes meandering, but sometimes sharp and incisive.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you NetGalley for the chance to read and review this book. Unfortunately as I read through it I just found it really boring and our main character really bland, which is hard to manage because of the topics the book brings up at the very start.

Was this review helpful?

In "Lessons" by Ian McEwan, the reader gets an up close and personal view of Roland's life. It is a kind of "Forrest Gump" but with a more serious character and exquisite writing, though less charm. Roland is influenced by the historical events he lives through, and struggles to overcome abuse he experienced as a young child at the hands of a teacher. This novel is very character driven-it is an intimate portrait of Roland's life.

This book was long and dense. It will definitely not be for everyone. Though I enjoyed it overall, I did find myself getting bogged down in some of the details. I had to go back and reread at times because I found myself skimming or zoning out. I think the last half of the book was better than the first. I don't think "Lessons" is Ian McEwan's best work, but readers who appreciate good writing over plot will enjoy this one.

Was this review helpful?

Lessons by Ian McEwan is a highly recommended literary fiction following one man's life through many historical and personal events.

In 1986 Roland Baines, 37, has his wife Alissa leave him and their 7 month-old son Lawrence right before the Chernobyl sent a cloud of radiation. As Roland deals with his current circumstances, he ponders past events in his life. His father was an army captain in Tripoli which meant at age 11 he had to travel 2000 miles away to a boarding school in England. At the school a piano teacher takes advantage of him and this left scars that endured into adulthood. He rejects formal education, spends time traveling as he pursues introspective distractions through music, literature, friends, sex, politics, love, and, unexpectedly, fatherhood. Roland's life experiences are followed across generations of his dysfunctional family and many historical events.

The writing is lyrical, dense, and exquisite, with breath-taking descriptions and insight, as one would expect and anticipate from McEwan. On the other hand, giving a brief introduction to what Lessons is about is challenging. It is a compelling novel and I was engaged with the narrative, however, it also felt like just too much and became overwhelming at times.

There is a lot going on in this character driven novel. Roland himself isn't a particularly interesting character all on his own. The interest is found in the various experiences he lived through simple as an extension of his life experiences and these are all events I remembered. There are also numerous family secrets exposed and lessons shared from Roland's life. I did read Lessons over a period of time, which made it slow going and it felt like it could have been shortened or focused in tighter on a specific period of time.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday via NetGalley.
The review will be published on Barnes & Noble, Google Books, and Amazon.

Was this review helpful?

A great Ian McEwan book is very satisfying but unfortunately Lessons is not one of McEwan's best works although there are certain moments when McEwan's talent shines through. The narrative is more than a little plodding in places, the first few chapters are disjointed, and it seemed the book was way too long.

It was hard to warm to McEwan's latest protagonist Roland Baines - a character mostly (but not entirely) based on McEwan himself. He has certainly mined his own life and memories of historic events for much of this novel and. Baines is an emotionally distant character even whilst engaging with some of the most significant people in his life and this may often leave the reader feeling ambivalent about him.

Dysfunctional relationships with two women, decades apart, impact Baines's life. These relationships change the direction of his life and his subsequent relationships. It is the story a life with all its mistakes and missed opportunities but also its bonds and friendships against a backdrop of most of the major world events of the last 70 years.

Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

I had enjoyed Atonement (reading it on a trip to Ireland was fun if not really different than reading it anywhere else). I looked forward to this book too. I wasn't in love with it though. Sadly, I found it a bit boring, the characters almost universally unsympathetic and not very likable and the tale slow moving.

The book was interesting enough to complete and I did want to see how it all turned out but I wasn't in a "must turn the pages" like with the book.

Thanks to the publisher, the author and NetGalley for the ARC.

Was this review helpful?

Beautiful story! WOW I loved this! I am embarrassed to say that this is the first book I've read by Ian McEwan.. I am now going back and will devour everything he has written!

Was this review helpful?

Real Rating: 3.75* of five, rounded up

Sometimes gambling on a less-than-loved writer's work, when it's a story one really resonates with, pays off; other times, not so much. This experience, after my deep dislike of <I>Solar</i> and <I>Atonement</i> yet genuine appreciation for <I>The Children Act</i>, split the difference.

It's not news to regulars here that I was sexually abused by my ephebeophile mother when young. Quite recently I read <I>The Kingdoms</i>, an alternate history novel by Natasha Pulley, which contained a truly astonishing scene of unwanted intimacy between a man (the victim) and his wife (the violator) that, for the very first time ever in my experience of reading, contained the truth of coercive heterosex where the man's the coerced partner. It was...healing...for me to see that on the page. It gave me the inner resources to request this book back in June.

<I>Lessons</i> comes out tomorrow, and I recommend it to you as a good, solid novel of reckoning with emotional damage across a lifetime.

What about that equivocal waffle above? Well. Now. Author McEwan hasn't suddenly burst forth from a chrysalis and become a wildly passionate and gloriously sensuous prose stylist. He's still a man of his age and class. He's not built for flights of fancy or even particularly emotionally available prose stylings. It's one of the main reasons I haven't become a fanboy of his. But, and this is where I sound weird to my own inner ears, when there's a story to tell that *needs* to be kept buttoned up, he's the writer to do it. That was completely evident in <I>The Children Act</i>, another flat and affectless person's attempt to contextualize the wildly ungovernable emotions of others as they rampage through her (in that case) carefully designed lifestyle. It's the technique that was needed to tell this story and, blessedly, Author McEwan used it.

What happens to young Roland isn't all that unusual. I know we, as a culture, like to think men are perpetrators and women are victims, but this has never been true. It's time we faced up to it in the post-#MeToo moments. It isn't at all surprising to me that the pace of this story varies as much as it does. The youthful disasters are the ones that set the stage, often act as the pattern, for the hurts and buffets of the future. The manner of Author McEwan's telling of the different stories was quite clearly meant to reflect this. Where something happens for the first time, it is given narrative weight; when it comes around again, it gets less of it. I approve, if that needs saying, of this strategy.

No one is immune to the stresses and strains of The World as it runs amok and periodically threatens to kill us all. This life, Roland's years on this planet, contains all of my own years on it. I was at different stages of life than Roland, of course, being two decades younger; but the fact is I was formed by the same things Roland was. It felt to me as though Roland trudged and slogged a lot of his life away. Given the emotional damage he carries with him, that was perfectly logical to me. It wasn't, however, a chucklefest. When you're going to take me on a five hundred-plus page trip inside one man's skull, I as a reader would like some lightening of the shadows, say with humor. Author McEwan doesn't offer that to us; this is something to be aware of in deciding whether you'd like to read the book.

Many other early readers seem to have a problem with Alissa, the wife who abandons Roland with their infant son to become a writer. I'm entirely unsure what the heck the problem they have with that subplot is. It's not like it can't happen, since it's something Doris Lessing (eg) actually did. I myownself wasn't in the least surprised that Roland would marry someone who could calmly walk away from messy emotional realities in order to serve her own needs. Like calls to like, after all.

The one moment I felt Author McEwan really rather overplayed his emotionless hand had to do with the Chernobyl disaster...it felt, in its handling, like something was finally just off in the manner of his weaving the event into the story. But honestly, as said above, this book is telling a story about the reverberations of an emotional cripple's awkward flailings, and nobody I can think of could do it better than Ian McEwan has done.

Was this review helpful?

From the opening of LESSONS, Ian McEwan once again offers his unique brand of storytelling: immediately relatable from the time the main character is a young boy learning how to play the piano through a lifetime of learning, winning and losing, but always himself. McEwan writes the ultimate in whole-bodied flung into a another world, the perspective of an ordinary and extraordinary person -- I deeply enjoyed relaxing into his masterfully written and well-drawn tale. I received a copy of this novel and these opinions are my own, unbiased thoughts.

Was this review helpful?

This just wasn't for for me. The story starts when Roland is maybe 11 at boarding school and he is being abused by a female piano teacher. From there we hop to 1986 and his wife has left him with a seven-month old son. The story read more like a stream of consciousness and jumping around to different times in Roland's life. I found it hard to get invested in the character and with the use of the third person it made it more difficult.

Thank you to Netgalley and Knopf Doubleday for providing me a digital copy.

Was this review helpful?

I felt tremendous empathy, admiration, and respect as I read Roland’s life story. To truly understand a person it’s essential to recognize their background mixed with the era in which they were born. It is true our past shapes us but it certainly does not define us as Roland and his story demonstrate. Lessons left me in a reflective mood and this book will be a story I will never forget, truly indelible.

Roland is an ordinary man, cerebral, economical with his emotions, selfless, complicated yet facile. His calm, placid manner was understandable yet troubled. His ability to ‘forgive’ in a combination with accepting things as they are was inspiring. He’s matter-of-fact and takes care of his business with the best of intentions. He never looked back only accepted what was. I kept asking myself and will forever ask the ‘big’ question - if Miriam Cornell never entered his life, what would have become of Roland’s life and its trajectory? I will never stop contemplating this question. Roland is a character you accept unconditionally, with no judgment. He easily wins your respect as you hang on his every word as he candidly shares his life through his perceptions of events and experiences, opinions. He’s selective in sharing the deepest recesses of his feelings/emotions and this causes frustration but demands honor. I found him to be a quiet force without intention on his part. He pulled me in completely which is a sign of wonderful characterization.

Remarkable writing, a history lesson, and a fragile subject matter approached with respect while demonstrating its long lingering effects will dominate your attention and heart. McEwen weaves a simple man into a transparent giant leaving you introspective on your own life.

All-encompassing novel penned by a gifted author. Admirers of historical fiction, McEwan, and sweeping epics will relish Lessons. Approach this read in small bites to enhance the reading experience and wholly grasp Roland Baines - his past, present, and future, his story. I hope I am fortunate to live to my 70s and tell my story, the good, bad and ugly. Brilliant novel and a treasure, McEwan undoubtedly beaming with pride as he rightfully should.

Was this review helpful?

I generally love Ian McEwan's novels but this was just ... I don't know ... tedious, I guess. A not-especially-likeable man wanders through life.

I will generally finish a couple books each week. This took over a week because I just could not find any strong draw to keep going.

Was this review helpful?

Lessons was a very difficult book for me to get through. I have much respect for Ian McEwan, who is certainly a well known and prolific author but this novel was not for me. However, other readers may enjoy this character-driven novel. I found the story to move forward too slowly, in tiny detail increments. There was a lot of historical background that contributed to the level of detail presented, which will likely be appreciated by other readers.

Thanks to NetGalley and Albert A Knopf for the digital ARC.

Was this review helpful?

This book does not disappoint. A wife’s sudden disappearance, leaving behind her husband and infant son, make for an exploration into her husband’s life history. This was a fascinating look at how well one really knows a spouse, a parent, a lover, a child. It is also a tale of forgiveness and acceptance. Ian McEwan is a skillful writer and this piece of writing is no exception to his skill. I fully recommend.

Was this review helpful?

While I have enjoyed Ian McEwan's books in the past and was excited to be given an ARC by NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review, I found Lessons fell flat for me. While I did finish the book, it was a struggle for me.

Was this review helpful?

I’ve wanted to read a book by Ian McEwan for so long and I’m not sure LESSONS is quite the right place to start. (Or perhaps I ought to give more credit to movie adaptations than I have in the past.) The plot, a man’s experience of the last 75 years or so as a backdrop to a life filled with ambivalent loss, seemed interesting. The problem was that the writing style and the character were both distant, they placed the reader so far from the center of activity that the book just felt flat and the main character, AWOL. Perhaps that was the writer’s point, but it made for a slog of a read. I found it difficult to concentrate on the book and wished it was more compelling. I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Was this review helpful?

Eleven-year-old Roland Baines’ life changes dramatically when his Africa based parents decide to send him back to England to attend a boarding school and get the classic education. While the political landscape forms itself after the Second World War, the boy takes piano lessons with Miss Cornell who will shape not only his idea of music, she will become his first love. Incidentally or initiated by fate, Roland’s life will remain closely connected to global events, be it the cloud coming from Chernobyl, the beginning and end of the Cold War, or major crises such as AIDS and the pandemic. As we travel through his life, he has to learn some lessons, some taken light-heartedly, others a lot harder and leaving scars.

I have been a huge fan of Ian McEwan’s novel for years and accordingly, I was keen to open his latest novel “Lessons”. What I have always appreciate most in his books is his carefully crafted characters who – hit by events outside their control – need to cope and to adjust. He is a wonderful narrator who easily makes you sink into the plot and forget everything around you. Even though “Lessons” does not focus that much on a single question as in “The Children Act” or “Saturday” and was much longer than most of his former writings, I hugely enjoyed how his protagonist’s character unfolds in front of us and becomes who he is when his life closes.

The novel has been announced as “a chronicle of out times” and admittedly, that’s just what it is. By the example of Roland, he illustrates the last six decades, he chronicles British and European politics, arts, music and mind-set. Roland’s process of learning does not stop, life is a continuous process of trial and error, of mistakes and good decisions which all leave their mark.

Interestingly, the protagonist is a rather passive character. He only ever reacts to what happens, his piano teacher’s advances, his wife’s running away, his career: Roland does not actively shape his life, it is the first and foremost the women he encounters who make him move and – even though they all remain minor characters – it’s them who bring the verve and dynamics into the action.

I can imagine that some readers will find the novel a bit slow and lacking focus, yet, I totally adored it and enjoyed every minute of the read.

Was this review helpful?