Who is Ian McEwan?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
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  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2019
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Ian McEwan is an English novelist and short story writer known for the often macabre subject matter and suspenseful pacing of his work. While his gruesome early fiction earned him the nickname "Ian Macabre," his novels have become increasingly more sophisticated and acclaimed throughout his career. His first published work, a collection of short stories entitled First Love, Last Rites (1975), earned McEwan the Somerset Maugham Award. McEwan has also won awards for his novels The Child in Time (1987), Amsterdam (1998), Saturday (2005), and Atonement. The last of these, which many consider his masterpiece, won four separate awards and appeared on TIME magazine's All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels list.

In addition to his books, McEwan has written screenplays for film and television, including The Ploughman's Lunch (1985). Four of McEwan's novels have been adapted to the screen, along with two of his short stories, and the film version of Atonement is slated for a 2007 release.


Ian McEwan was born in Aldershot, England on 21 June 1948. Because his father was an army officer, he spent much of his childhood abroad in Germany, North Africa, and East Asia. Ian McEwan studied English Literature at the University of Sussex and the University of East Anglia. At the University of East Anglia, he was the first graduate of their creative writing class, taught by the novelist Malcolm Bradbury. In 1997, McEwan married Annalena McAfee, the author of many children's books and editor of the Guardian Review. McEwan has two adult children from a previous marriage to Penny Allen.

In 2006, controversy erupted over McEwan's use of passages from Lucilla Andrews' No Time for Romance in his novel Atonement. Some critics accused him of plagiarism, while others, including fellow novelist Thomas Pynchon, defended him. In response, McEwan noted that he acknowledged Andrews as an inspiration in his author's note at the end of the novel, but some still believe that he overstepped reasonable standards of "borrowing."

In his novels, McEwan has dealt with such disturbing themes as incest, murder, kidnapping, de Clerambault's syndrome, a hostage situation, and various mental disorders. His work is often uncomfortable for the reader but also deeply affecting. His later novels are more character-driven, and McEwan writes convincingly of the thoughts and motivations of a range of character types.


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