Black Dogs by Ian McEwan

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “In 1946, a young couple set off on their honeymoon. Fired by their ideals and passion for one another, they plan an idyllic holiday, only to encounter an experience of darkness so terrifying it alters their lives forever”

REVIEW: I have read a number of McEwan’s books over the past few years after my love affair with his most famous work of fiction, ‘Atonement’ (which, by the way, I would still count as his best work and one of my favourite novels), but none of the previous have been anything like ‘Black Dogs’. As you can see, the blurb gives nothing away, and the title is mysterious, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised by the setting – the novel takes place in the final years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, with one of the key events being the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. As this is one of my favourite historical periods, I was intrigued to see how McEwan might work with such a deep and complex setting. As usual, his writing has a flow and preciseness that sharpens focus and allows the reader to become fully absorbed in the work. The story itself, however, is relatively simple, if a little unusual. Jeremy, the protagonist, decides to tell the story of his recently deceased mother-in-law, June, whose husband Bernard still has complicated feelings about her and, in particular, an event she claims to have experienced during their honeymoon involving two vicious black dogs. The book tells the story of Jeremy attempting to uncover the truth about the elusive June, with events such as a trip to Berlin to witness the newly reunited Germany forming an interesting and enlightening backdrop to the narrative. The main focus for the reader is to find out what happened with the ‘Black Dogs'; the story is hinted at but not discussed until very near to the close of what is, admittedly, a very short novel. Although shocking and disturbing, and even causing a shiver up the spine, the story could be explored so much further, and I feel that although reserving answers is an oft-used tactic of McEwan’s, in this case it has been taken to extremes and somewhat sours the ending of what is otherwise an excellently constructed, well-written and absorbing book.

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