Lessons: A novel (Hardcover)
A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: Vogue • The New Yorker
“Masterful.... McEwan is a storyteller at the peak of his powers…. One of the joys of the novel is the way it weaves history into Roland’s biography…. The pleasure in reading this novel is letting it wash over you.” —Associated Press
When the world is still counting the cost of the Second World War and the Iron Curtain has closed, eleven-year-old Roland Baines's life is turned upside down. Two thousand miles from his mother's protective love, stranded at an unusual boarding school, his vulnerability attracts piano teacher Miss Miriam Cornell, leaving scars as well as a memory of love that will never fade.
Now, when his wife vanishes, leaving him alone with his tiny son, Roland is forced to confront the reality of his restless existence. As the radiation from Chernobyl spreads across Europe, he begins a search for answers that looks deep into his family history and will last for the rest of his life.
Haunted by lost opportunities, Roland seeks solace through every possible means—music, literature, friends, sex, politics, and, finally, love cut tragically short, then love ultimately redeemed. His journey raises important questions for us all. Can we take full charge of the course of our lives without causing damage to others? How do global events beyond our control shape our lives and our memories? And what can we really learn from the traumas of the past?
Epic, mesmerizing, and deeply humane, Lessons is a chronicle for our times—a powerful meditation on history and humanity through the prism of one man's lifetime.
"Brilliant . . . Nobody is better at writing about entropy and indignity — among other topics — than Ian McEwan . . . One way to read Lessons is as a self-repudiation of the maneuver at which McEwan has become virtuosic. More authors should repudiate their virtuosity. The results are exciting." —The New York Times Book Review
“McEwan’s new novel is a profound demonstration of his remarkable skill. Lessons progresses in time the way a rising tide takes the beach: a cycle of forward surges and seeping retreats, giving us a clearer and fuller sense of Roland’s life. He becomes a kind of Zelig character passing through momentous changes in the late-20th century. Indeed, even more than McEwan’s previous novels, Lessons is a story that so fully embraces its historical context that it calls into question the synthetic timelessness of much contemporary fiction.” —The Washington Post
“Insightful . . . Engaging . . . Expansive and unhurried, Lessons explores how one man’s life is shaped by the unpredictable sweep of history.” —Seattle Times
“What constitutes a successful life—particularly one damaged by a crime of passion? Ian McEwan’s novel grapples with this question via the story of a troubled single father. Whether describing the day-to-day minutiae, a disturbing affair, or mammoth historical events, McEwan captivates with thoughtful, emotionally honest prose.” —Christian Science Monitor
"An amazing capacious generous brilliant novel." —Claire Messud
“Brilliant . . . a beguiling and irresistible read . . . A masterpiece of a novel that is simultaneously about the business of growing up and getting old, and the business of writing fiction. McEwan, an unparalleled master of social realism, performs a remarkable trick: He manages to create an ineffable sense of mystery out of a rather ordinary human life. How does McEwan pull it off? Through the patient accretion of closely observed detail and one beautiful, shimmering sentence after another.” —USA Today [4-star review]
“Generous, ambitious . . . a masterpiece of modulation among pathos, fury, and affection . . . Consummate set pieces include a poignant account of how Roland’s beloved second wife, Daphne, diagnosed with terminal cancer, spends her final weeks and hours. The physical struggle between Roland and Peter Mount, a smarmy MP who was Daphne’s first husband, to seize her ashes and empty them into a rustic river is a tragicomic gem. The story of how Roland smuggles Animal Farm, a Velvet Underground album, and other contraband to friends in East Germany is a miniature, flawless thriller . . . McEwan’s richly textured novel offers cryptic lessons, but what they teach leaves Roland, ‘an ardent autodidact,’ bewildered. The literary artistry leaves this reader in awe.” —The Boston Globe
“Masterful . . . McEwan is a storyteller at the peak of his powers and this deserves to be near the top of the ‘best books of 2022’ list. One of the joys of the novel is the way it weaves history into Roland’s biography as well as the lives of other characters in the book. There are other themes here McEwan explores in depth—from envy to ambition to what truly constitutes a life well-lived — but the pleasure in reading this novel is letting it wash over you.” —Associated Press
“[Lessons] is quietly touching, as is Mr. McEwan’s decision to cede his habitual narrative control to more naturalistic forces. Lessons is more formless than previous books . . . It is also wiser and closer to the bone.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Lessons is an achievement of language but also of ambition: A male writer charts, in consummate detail, the interior world of a male protagonist barely able to keep his chin above a tide of social change.” —Oprah Daily
"A luminous, beautifully written, and gripping book about lives imperfectly lived. McEwan’s new novel is ranging, ambitious, teasingly autobiographical, and unsettling in the manner of his best work, a story of monstrous behavior set against major tides of the last 80 years. Roland Baines, a kind of spectator to history, is our hero [and] is both haunted by trauma and able to push away from it, toward love, parenthood, forgiveness, grace.” —Vogue
“McEwan returns with his best work since the Booker- and NBCC-winning Atonement . . . Throughout, McEwan poignantly shows how the characters contend with major historical moments while dealing with the ravages of daily life, which is what makes this so affecting. He also employs lyrical but pared-down prose to great effect . . . Once more, the masterly McEwan delights.” —Publishers Weekly [★ starred review]
“Richly observed . . . A tale of aspiration, disappointment, and familial dysfunction spread across a vast historic panorama . . . McEwan’s imagination delivers plenty of family secrets and reflects on ‘so many lessons unlearned’ in a world that’s clearly wobbling off its axis.” —Kirkus Reviews [★ starred review]