Book Review: Lessons by Ian McEwan

When the world is still counting the cost of the Second World War and the Iron Curtain has closed, eleven-year-old Roland Baines’s life is turned upside down. 2,000 miles from his mother’s protective love, stranded at an unusual boarding school, his vulnerability attracts piano teacher Miss Miriam Cornell, leaving scars as well as a memory of love that will never fade.

Now, when his wife vanishes, leaving him alone with his tiny son, Roland is forced to confront the reality of his restless existence. As the radiation from Chernobyl spreads across Europe, he begins a search for answers that looks deep into his family history and will last for the rest of his life.

From the Suez Crisis to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the fall of the Berlin Wall to the current pandemic and climate change, Roland sometimes rides with the tide of history, but more often struggles against it. Haunted by lost opportunities, he seeks solace through every possible means – music, literature, friends, sex, politics and, finally, love cut tragically short, then love ultimately redeemed. His journey raises important questions for us all. Can we take full charge of the course of our lives without damage to others? How do global events beyond our control shape our lives and our memories? And what can we really learn from the traumas of the past?


Right off the bat, I have to say that this book was not for me. I think the main reason is that Ian McEwan is not for me. I tried before with Atonement and didn’t enjoy it. But the blurb of Lessons appealed to me, so I thought I’d give him another try. I’ll tell you why I didn’t enjoy this book but if you are an Ian McEwan fan usually, I’d recommend reading some other reviews to learn more about Lessons.

I think the main reason that I didn’t enjoy Lessons was because I was looking for something juicy. While there certainly was juicy parts of this book, I wanted it to focus mainly on Roland’s missing wife and it didn’t. This is certainly a more character-led book than plot and you have to enjoy that to get on board with Lessons.

Also, which there is no doubt that the author is a fantastic writer, his writing style wasn’t for me. The chapters and paragraphs are very long and not always easy to consume. I read a review where the reviewer said it took them a month to read this book (on purpose so they could save it) and I can understand why that may be.

One thing I did like about Lessons was that it was set against some big moments in time. There is something about a major event taking place in the background of a character’s life that I really enjoy.

Please don’t take Lessons at face value based on my review. Ian McEwan is a huge author for a reason. It just doesn’t match with what I look for in a book.

You can pick up a copy of the book here.

I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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