Black Dogs contains massive amounts for such a slim volume. It is a stylish, elegant short novel that mixes in such a wealth of European culture, war, timescale, philosophy, ideology and character change that I couldn't quite believe the novel only amounts to some 160 pages.
Black Dogs is, unashamedly, a European novel of ideas. As Julian Barnes said, some people don't like finding ideas in novels, it is like discovering a toothpick in a sandwich (Nabokov was perhaps the most forthright proponent of this view). I happen to rather like ideas. Used wisely, they can infuse fiction with new angles, different approaches to the essential fictional subjects - stories, and the human condition that allows them to happen.
Despite the ambition though, I don't think the novel is one of McEwan's greatest. There is so much packed in that the main characters - Bernard and June, the couple on which the book is centred, don't have sufficient room to breathe. They come across more as paragons of particular ideas and personality types McEwan is interested in exploring - intellectual vs practical thinker, reason vs spirituality, subjective vs objective truth, scorpions v dragonflies (used in two separate, vivid scenes to show the difficulty of pinning down truth, and the cruelty humans are capable of inflicting).
Sometimes, in those sublime Proustian sentences McEwan is capable of crafting, the prose soars, such as the description of the fall of the Berlin wall: 'East Berliners in nylon anoraks and bleached-out jeans jackets, pushing buggies of holding their children's hands, were filing past Checkpoint Charlie, unchecked..Two sisters clung to each other and wouldn't be parted for an interview.' But too often the story is clogged by a little too much neat, earnest philosophizing, and not enough fictional passion.