Part 3 of this book deals with Briony's time as a nurse probationer before and just after the Dunkirk evacuation. I wasn't far into it when I googled Bunyan Bags, and found this article:
Ian McEwan has a reputation for the thorough research he undertakes before writing his novels. But yesterday, a Sunday newspaper claimed he had "copied" the work of another author for his Booker-nominated novel, Atonement. Here, McEwan refutes the claim, and explains how he drew on research and reminiscences for one of his most celebrated books
In my previous blogpost I alluded to the research that must have happened, and at the end of the book he acknowledges the various sources. So in my mind there is no suggestion of plagiarism. However, when reading historical novels, it is important to remember that their veracity is dependent on the - often unsung - work of others; the less input from primary sources, the more made up is the historical bit.
Taken on one level, the description of Briony in St Thomas's is worth reading for its own sake, as with the retreat to Dunkirk. It's a decent use of Primary sources. So far so good.
The final part of this section of the book sees Briony having a day out. She walks from St Thomas's to Clapham Common to Balham. This is very much my 'manor'. I get a bit tired of novelists using it but not actually living there -and as far as I can tell the writer lives in North London. But this is far from being the worst case, although it beggars belief that he refers to Balham as an Underground station even though it's obviously both Underground and 'mainline' - Southern Rail nowadays.
There is a coherent narrative that moves forward logically. The reader might not agree with the choices made by Briony and other characters, but no cause for complaint - one of the great things about fiction in general is being free to disagree with characters' choices.
You may wonder why I have expended time and energy writing three blogposts abot a book I care little for. Good question! It's about expectations. It has been drummed into for me years that there are 'better' books and 'lesser' books, and it's only recently dawned on me that this is not really a comment on their actual content, but about their genre. I know I'm not supposed to use 'genre' to describe 'literary fiction', but why not? It's just another category. It's the category that is eligible for various awards such as the Booker, but that doesn't mean that it is inherently superior, or better written, or more meaningful than other genres. for example, I suspect that Charles Dickens would not have been eligible for this category, not being literary, preferring to tell stories about characters and events. Too populist, I guess.
I suppose there is a judgement made by the English Literature industry that this certain category is more worthy than others. If others of us, outside The Industry, protest the merits of books in other categories, it shows that we are uneducated. It's an argument you can't win, because if like me, your education is in politics and history and your life experience is in politics and public admin, this only goes to prove their point. by being expert in anything applied, physical, technical, by definition you're outside The English Literature Industry. I know this could be interpreted as a post-truth lurch at Experts. Far from it. The English Literature Industry is packed full of experts in that industry. It's as if I were to present to you my expertise in audit, such as Detailed Controls Examination, Precision Gap Widening or the respective roles of first and second reviewers, rather than reflections on how well managed systems deliver for the public good, and what makes for a system that's able to deliver.
But we're told that about 'must read' books, books nominated for Booker and so on. In reality most of us read books that are dismissed by the snobs as genres. I admit, there are genres I have grown out of, and ones that just don't interest me (supernatural, dystopia, science fiction). I don't assume that readers of those genres are thick, for all sorts of reasons. Sure, I hate GoodReads 5 star reviews that basically say 'OMG, Wow, this was awesome, I got this as a free Advanced Review Copy' because, where everything is 5 star and awesome, nothing stands out. But there is no evidence that books classified as literary are objectively or subjectively better than books classified into other genres.
Below I outline specific criticisms of the book with a spoiler warning.
Definite spoiler below. Do not progress if you haven't read the book