Although his last outing, Solar (2010), showed traces of that very un-McEwanish quality, a sense of humour, most readers asked to come up with Ian McEwan’s defining characteristic as a novelist would settle for the earnestness that runs through his work like the lettering through a stick of rock. Thirty years ago, in The Comfort of Strangers, he was being earnest about the women’s movement. Come the mid-Eighties, in the oratorio Or Shall We Die?, he was being earnest about the Bomb. Just lately he has been earnest about such problems as US intervention in the Middle East, the unconsummated marriages of the Macmillan era and global warming.
This is not, of course, a complaint. However intermittently old-fashioned the paraphernalia of these despatches from Planet McEwan, and however flagrant their advertising of the ‘issues’ lurking beneath, the note of high moral seriousness is a constant: a welcome reminder of those bygone fictional landscapes – Bradburyville, Drabble City –