The Innocent: A Novel

( 11 )

Overview

Leonard Marnham is assigned to a British-American surveillance team in Cold War Berlin. His intelligence work—tunneling under a Russian communications center to tap the phone lines to Moscow—offers him a welcome opportunity to begin shedding his own unwanted innocence, even if he is only a bit player in a grim international comedy of errors. Leonard's relationship with Maria Eckdorf, an enigmatic and beautiful West Berliner, likewise promises to loosen the bonds of his ordinary life. But the promise turns to ...

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The Innocent: A Novel

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Overview

Leonard Marnham is assigned to a British-American surveillance team in Cold War Berlin. His intelligence work—tunneling under a Russian communications center to tap the phone lines to Moscow—offers him a welcome opportunity to begin shedding his own unwanted innocence, even if he is only a bit player in a grim international comedy of errors. Leonard's relationship with Maria Eckdorf, an enigmatic and beautiful West Berliner, likewise promises to loosen the bonds of his ordinary life. But the promise turns to horror in the course of one terrible evening—a night when Leonard Marnham learns just how much of his innocence he's willing to shed.

In a startling departure from the groundbreaking literary fiction that established his reputation, McEwan has written an impeccably constructed psychological thriller which Time magazine calls "a blueprint for the future of the genre."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Never less than wholly entertaining." —The Wall Street Journal

"Deft, taut fiction. . . . Many English writers have been compared to Evelyn Waugh, often wrongly, but this book can stand with the master's best." —Time

"So exhaustively suspenseful that it should be devoured at one sitting. . . . McEwan fuses a spy-novel plot with themes as venerable as the myth of Adam and Eve." —Newsweek

"Has the spooky, crooked-angled, danger-around-every-corner feeling of a Carol Reid film. It reminded me often of The Third Man and that is no mean feat." —Jonathan Carroll, The Washington Post Book World

"Powerful and disturbing . . . a tour de force." —The New York Times

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
McEwan's name will be on everyone's lips with his startling new novel, an impeccably constructed psychological thriller set in Berlin during the Cold War. Basing his story on an actual (but little known) incident, he tells of the secret tunnel under the Soviet sector which the British and Americans built in 1954 to gain access to the Russians' communication system. The protagonist, Leonard Marnham, is a 25-year-old, naive, unsophisticated English post office technician who is astonished and alarmed to find himself involved in a top-secret operation. At the same time that he loses his political innocence, Leonard experiences his sexual initiation in a clandestine affair with a German divorcee five years his senior. As his two secret worlds come together, events develop into a gruesome nightmare, far more macabre than anything McEwan ( The Child in Time ) has previously written, building to a searing, unforgettable scene of surrealist intensity in which Leonard and his lover try to conceal evidence of a murder. Acting to save himself from a prison sentence, Leonard desperately performs an act of espionage whose ironic consequences resonate down the years to a twister of an ending. Though its plot rivals any thriller in narrative tension, this novel is also a character study--of a young man coming of age in bizarre circumstances, and of differences in national character: the gentlemanly Brits, all decorum and civility; the brash, impatient Americans; the cynical Germans. McEwan's neat, tensile prose raises this book to the highest level of the genre.
Jonathan Carroll
Has the spooky crooked-angled danger-around-every-corner feeling of a Carol Reed film. It reminded me often of The Third Man and that is no mean feat.
— Jonathan Carroll, Washington Post Book World
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385494335
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/28/1998
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 215,278
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of more than ten books, including the novels The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize, and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award, as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He has also written screenplays, plays, television scripts, a children’s book, and the libretto for an oratorio. He lives in London.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Ian Russell McEwan
    2. Hometown:
      Oxford, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 21, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Aldershot, England
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Sussex, 1970; M.A., University of East Anglia, 1971
    2. Website:

Reading Group Guide

Ian McEwan's novel The Innocent showcases the author's range and skill as he delivers unlikely, and welcome, combinations of suspense, ethics, philosophy, and political and religious ideology. In lesser hands, such a mix might be lethal. In McEwan's, it's intoxicating.

1. Who are the innocents in this novel? Countries? Individuals?

2. In many ways, innocence is a state to be much desired. As such, do people and countries always pay a price for their innocence? Put another way, is loss of innocence, by its very nature, always painful?

3. At one point, Leonard describes Americans, noting, "He had seen grown men drinking chocolate milk...they were innocent....They had these secrets and they had their chocolate milk" (page 187). Talk about the difference between the British and the Americans in this novel.

4. Glass tells Leonard, "[E]verybody thinks he has the final story. You only hear of a higher level at the moment you're being told about it" (page 16). Discuss this as a key to the novel.

5. Early in the novel, Glass says that it is secrets that make us conscious, that make us individuals, summing up, "Secrecy made us possible" (page 44). Talk about this as a theme in the novel.

6. Leonard helps kill a man, but it is in his near rape of Maria that his state of mind is truly malevolent. Is state of mind, more than actions, a barometer of guilt?

7. Discuss the logic in Maria's statement, after she and Leonard have killed Otto, "[I]f we are going to lie, if we are going to pretend things, then we must do it right" (page 186). Is morality an absolute?

8. Near the end, Leonard longs to tell his story, confess his guilt, and explain the step-by-step progression that led to dismembering Otto. Maria does do this and in not telling Leonard of her confession, she is loyal to Glass, not Leonard. Is it this betrayal that keeps them apart?

9. Talk about the end of the novel, and about Leonard's wish to come back to Berlin with Maria before the Wall is torn down. Will he get to Cedar Rapids, Iowa? Will they return to Berlin together?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 9, 2011

    Good+Read

    Held+my+interest+throughout%3B+have+always+enjoyed+this+author%27s+works%2C+including+%22In+between+the+Sheets%22+-+a+collection+of+short+stories.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    recomeend

    very well written i really enjoyed reading it.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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