What excuse is there for Ian McEwan? He may be one of our finest novelists and have won every major award for fiction over the last four decades, yet earlier this year he erred. In April the novelist gave a talk at the Royal Institution on the nature of the self and its evolution throughout history by way of Montaigne, Shakespeare, Pepys and Boswell. Unfortunately for McEwan, he also referred to the ‘troubling’ wave of political correctness and ‘strange sense of victimhood’ currently gripping American university campuses, as well as some of the strange obsessions to which this has given rise. Specifically, he queried the idea that people can ‘choose’ whatever identity they like. Certain things constrain us, he pointed out – biology, for instance.
The novelist’s foot had met the landmine, but the mine had not yet exploded. It took a lone disgruntled audience member to help the detonation along. Sniffing an incorrect view in the Royal Institution night air, this individual asked McEwan to clarify his views on transsexuality. McEwan replied, ‘Call me