I am swiftly making my way through McEwan’s works and The Innocent is my eighth! But it also my only McEwan I have read that I have given three stars — sadly making it my least favourite! Three stars is still a good rating but I expected something more from McEwan. I didn’t feel like it was his writing, the world seemed odd. I actually found my mind multiple times trailing to Snow by Orhan Pamuk. So there is nothing wrong with the book, it just (for me) wasn’t McEwan!
The plot is very simple. Leonard is sent to Berlin to help with a secret British-American surveillance team, located under Soviet territory. It is 1950’s Berlin so as you can imagine the tension and conflict is pretty high — secrecy is essential. Almost instantly Leonard, before arriving in Berlin a complete loner, falls in love. And what happens when you fall deeply in love — you do some pretty strange and desperate things! And to prevent spoilers, this is where his life gets a little messy.
At first, I questioned the purpose of Leonard’s relationship. It seemed simple and useless to the plot then out of nowhere it all clicks into place. Everything is nicely linked together in this book. His job and his relationship. His friends (or work colleagues) and his relationship. I don’t think there are any plot holes but still, it all seems so messy, not as clean as his other works.
Innocence is also a key motif in this novel but again it’s very vague and seems to be brushed aside. It’s like McEwan had this grand idea to explore innocence and morality but he got carried away with the plot and forget to add the meaningful bits in! Yes, the book covers the question that can someone be innocent and claims to be innocent when they commit one of the most treacherous crimes? But, I think there was room for McEwan to cover it in far more depth — little mini-essays on the motif. That would be his usual approach.
So what is this novel and do I recommend it? It contains the usual McEwanism of politics and history but it is just a little more flat than usual. If you are interested in Berlin in the ’50s then I think you will enjoy this. And if like me, you just like McEwan, definitely give it a go and see how it stands against his other works.