The innocent by Ian McEwan

A young English man by the name of Leonard Marnham, an employee of the Post Office, is assigned to a British-American surveillance team in Cold War Berlin. They were tunnelling underground to tap the Russian telephone lines to Moscow. This of course had to be kept a secret for as long as possible.

One day, while going out with Bob Glass and a guy named Russel, Leonard meets Maria; an enigmatic and beautiful West Berliner; with whom he falls in love.

“He thought, correctly as it turned out, that his life was about to change.” p. 45

Maria Louise Eckdorf; she was thirty years old and worked as a typist and translator at a small British Army vehicle workshop in Spandau. There was her ex-husband called Otto who appeared unpredictably two or three times in a year to demand money and sometimes smack her.

Leonard’s relationship with Maria Eckdorf promised to loosen the bonds of his ordinary life. Until Otto shows up again and everything turns to horror in the course of one terrible evening where Otto gets killed.

The story is told by a third-person, an omniscient narrator. In the first several chapters this narrator is very descriptive.

“… -with a certain proprietorial swagger, as though his feet beat out the rhythms of a speech by Mr. Churchill.” P. 6

If this had continued, the story would have begun to get too tedious to read. And because each and every character is referred to by the narrator as for example he and she, sometimes I got confused about who is doing what. That is why I normally prefer a first-person narrative.

Apart from that, the writer didn’t use English that was too difficult to read. The sentences were relatively short and his word use was also not that complicated (although I had to look some words up in the dictionary every now and then). This al made reading this book pleasant. I easily did understand where the story came down to. Almost everything that McEwan did imply to was clear.

While reading I noticed that I already knew a lot of things that were mentioned in the book. Things that I immediately recognized;

– Shakespeare p. 64

– Elvis Presley p. 132

– Gone With the Wind p. 134 (a book I’ve read)

Because this story takes place in a time not far from now, I knew about a lot of issues. That is for example because we have had discussed the Cold War in history class. Besides, the writer also wants you to imagine what he is telling you by explaining everything and describing scenes in detail.

“The ground .. about them.” P. 6

“What interested the neighbours was the prospect of renting or owning a television.” P. 140

This all contributed to the reality of the story.

Innocence is the freedom from sin, moral wrong, or guilt through lack of knowledge of evil. I think that the title aims to reflect Leonards innocence. For example he had had no sexual experience by the end of his twenty-fifth. It actually was not so extraordinary a thing in 1955 for a man of his background and temperament. But it was a remarkable thing for a man to confess I think. To convey what I mean I have to refer to another quotation.

“Maria pulled him closer. “Innocence again. You like anyone who’s kind to you. If Hitler buys you a drink, you say he’s a decent fellow!”” p. 159

Leonard starts shedding his own unwanted innocence because of the secrecy of his work. And eventually by killing Otto, he killed the little innocence remaining too.

“He was in no condition to make decisions; therefore he should keep silent.” P. 243

Most of the time I did understand Leonard in his manner of thinking but not always in how he eventually did act. Throughout the whole story you see Leonard changing. Eventually, in my opinion, this amount to a clearly description of how Leonard has become the person he is now, in 1987 (when he is old and returns to visit Berlin). And what the years in Berlin, with Maria by his side, had meant to him.

After all, I really did enjoy reading this book. Actual tension is build up in the last sentences of paragraph fifteen. That is when, while making love, Maria and Leonard find out that there is someone in the wardrobe; Otto!

Chapter 18 I found kind of horrifying; While in a fight (chapter 17) with Leonard, the drunken Otto gets murdered (Leonard was in fact in self-defence). And to cover up the crime that had taken place, Leonard and Maria came up with the idea to cut Otto in pieces and afterward hiding it in two suitcases.

First this seemed unbelievable to me. But after a while I realised that nonsense like this also happens every single day in real life. This actually made me feel sad.

“He drew the saw across the crook of Otto’s knee. It snagged immediately. It was the cloth, and below that, stringy tendons. He lifted the saw out and, without looking at the teeth, put it in position again and tried to pull it toward him. The same thing happened.” P. 198

And after that, the tension was so high up that, in no time I had read out the hole book.

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