The Innocent

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Overview

The setting is Berlin. Into this divided city, wrenched between East and West, between past and present; comes twenty-five-year-old Leonard Marnham, assigned to a British-American surveillance team.

Though only a pawn in an international plot that is never fully revealed to him, Leonard uses his secret work to escape the bonds of his ordinary life — and to lose his unwanted innocence.

The promise of his new life begins to be fulfilled as ...

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The Innocent: A Novel

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Overview

The setting is Berlin. Into this divided city, wrenched between East and West, between past and present; comes twenty-five-year-old Leonard Marnham, assigned to a British-American surveillance team.

Though only a pawn in an international plot that is never fully revealed to him, Leonard uses his secret work to escape the bonds of his ordinary life — and to lose his unwanted innocence.

The promise of his new life begins to be fulfilled as Leonard becomes a crucial part of the surveillance team, while simultaneously being initiated into a new world of love and sex by Maria, a beautiful young German woman. It is a promise that 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

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: 9780553565546
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/1/1995
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 270
  • Product dimensions: 4.17 (w) x 6.89 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan, one of the most acclaimed literary novelists working today, is also one of the most adventurous. His books are as unsettling for their insights into the human condition as they are for their at times macabre situations and plotlines. But however unexpected the story, McEwan always delivers a work of wonderfully fluid writing and distinct, memorable characters.

Biography

One of the most distinguished novelists of his generation, Ian McEwan was born in England and spent much of his childhood traveling with his father, an army officer stationed in the Far East, Germany, and North Africa. He graduated from Sussex University in 1970 with a degree in English Literature and received his MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.

McEwan burst upon the literary scene in the mid-1970s with two short story collections that highlighted with equal clarity his early predilection for disturbing, somewhat shocking subject matter and his dazzling prose style. Similarly, his 1978 debut novel, The Cement Garden, attracted as much attention for its unsettling storyline as for its stylistic brilliance. But even though his early work was saturated with deviant sex, violence, and death (so much so that he earned the nickname "Ian MacAbre"), he was never dismissed as a mere purveyor of cheap thrills. In fact, two of his most provocative works (The Comfort of Strangers and Enduring Love) were shortlisted for major U.K. awards.

As he has matured, McEwan has moved away from disquieting themes like incest, sadism, and psychotic obsession to explore more introspective human dramas. In an interview with The New Republic he described his literary evolution in this way:

"One passes the usual milestones in life: You have children, you find that whether you like it or not, you have a huge investment in the human project somehow succeeding. You become maybe a little more tolerant as you get older. Pessimism begins to feel something like a badge that you perhaps do not wear so easily. There is something delicious and reckless about the pessimism of being 21. And when you get older you feel maybe a little more delicate and hope that things will flourish. You don't want to take a stick to it."
Among many literary honors, McEwan has been awarded the Somerset Maugham Award for First Love, Last Rites (1976) and the Whitbread Prize for The Child in Time (1987). Nominated three times for the Booker Prize, he finally won in 1998 for Amsterdam. He has also received the WH Smith Literary Award and National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award for Atonement (2001) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Saturday (2005).

Good To Know

While developing the Harry Perowne, the neurosurgeon in Saturday, McEwan actually spent a year observing a neurosurgeon at work, which included time spent in the operating theater.

Although he is known principally for his novels, McEwan has also brought his vision to the screen as writer of the films The Ploughman's Lunch (1983) and Soursweet (1988).

Hollywood loves McEwan. Film adaptions of his novels include The Cement Garden, The Comfort of Strangers, The Innocent, Enduring Love, and Atonement.

McEwan is no stranger to controversy. In 1999, his first wife kidnapped their 13-year-old son.The child was returned and McEwan awarded sole custody. His ex-wife was fined for "defamation" of McEwan's name.

In 2002, Ian McEwan discovered that he had a brother born from an affair between McEwan's parents that occurred before their marriage and given up for adoption during WWII. Since their relationship has come to light, McEwan and his brother have met frequently and forged a friendship.

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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

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 thenovel, 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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