Ian McEwan’s ‘Lessons’ explores complex emotional terrain

the impact of early sexual abuse. 

Across decades, a man grapples with early sexual abuse, his absent wife, and single fatherhood in a novel that explores complex emotional terrain.  

Early in bestselling author Ian McEwan’s ambitious novel “Lessons,” protagonist Roland Baines witnesses a wreck between a car and a motorbike. Observing his military father’s quick response and the efficient care of emergency crews, the 9-year-old feels a surge of emotion, awed by “an entire system, just below the surface of everyday life.”

“Lessons,” a moving account of one man’s troubled life, reveals a slew of such systems – the web of ancestral ties, long-ago liaisons, macro events, and micro choices that underpins an individual life. Frank, assured, and unhurried, it’s a novel that grapples with big questions and thorny feelings. 

Complex emotional territory is nothing new for the prolific McEwan, whose earlier titles include “Amsterdam,” a Booker Prize winner, and the critically acclaimed novels “Atonement,” “On Chesil Beach” and “Saturday.” With “Lessons,” the author gives himself the space to present a disparate cast of characters – warts, wounds, and all – across a satisfying sweep of time. 

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