My Purple Scented Novel by Ian McEwan, 2016
The magic trick:
The perfect flow and structure of the plot
This story is just about perfect – at least in terms of executing what it intends to do.
It begins with a teaser statement foretelling where the plot will go without giving anything away. Enough to let you know there’s something big coming. Then it settles into a steady flow of autobiography, telling the story of a friendship (literary and otherwise) from a fairly great height. We cover a lot of ground fairly quickly, going from the pair’s college years together into early middle age.
What would seem to be a pleasant psychological/emotional portrait suddenly gets very plotty. And maybe some folks might not like that, feeling that it’s movie-of-the-week fodder or just a little bit too much. I loved it, personally.
The story starts moving much faster, still covering major incidents and significant chunks of time in leaps and bounds, but with more of a focus on a singular event and its consequences.
Then, before we can even catch our breath, it ends. Not in a jarring finish, though. It’s a surprisingly calm, even warm, conclusion. The story, as we originally suspected, was the portrait of a friendship, and we’re left considering what that even means. And that’s quite a trick on McEwan’s part.
But, of course, there were differences that neither of us could ignore. My place in Durham was friendly enough, but child-trampled, crowded, cold in the winter. The chairs and carpets had been wrecked by a dog and two cats. The kitchen was always full of laundry, because that was where the washing machine was. The house was afflicted with many ginger-colored pine fittings that we never had time to paint or replace. There was rarely more than one bottle of wine in the house. The kids were fun, but they were chaotic and noisy. We lived on my modest salary and Arabella’s part-time nursing. We had no savings, few luxuries. It was hard in my house to find a place to read a book. Or to find a book.
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