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The Innocent: A Novel Paperback – December 29, 1998

3.9 out of 5 stars 139 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

McEwan's name will be on everyone's lips with his startling new novel, an impeccably constructed psychological thriller set in Berlin during the Cold War. Basing his story on an actual (but little known) incident, he tells of the secret tunnel under the Soviet sector which the British and Americans built in 1954 to gain access to the Russians' communication system. The protagonist, Leonard Marnham, is a 25-year-old, naive, unsophisticated English post office technician who is astonished and alarmed to find himself involved in a top-secret operation. At the same time that he loses his political innocence, Leonard experiences his sexual initiation in a clandestine affair with a German divorcee five years his senior. As his two secret worlds come together, events develop into a gruesome nightmare, far more macabre than anything McEwan ( The Child in Time ) has previously written, building to a searing, unforgettable scene of surrealist intensity in which Leonard and his lover try to conceal evidence of a murder. Acting to save himself from a prison sentence, Leonard desperately performs an act of espionage whose ironic consequences resonate down the years to a twister of an ending. Though its plot rivals any thriller in narrative tension, this novel is also a character study--of a young man coming of age in bizarre circumstances, and of differences in national character: the gentlemanly Brits, all decorum and civility; the brash, impatient Americans; the cynical Germans. McEwan's neat, tensile prose raises this book to the highest level of the genre. Film rights to Paramount; BOMC and QPB featured alternates.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Never less than wholly entertaining." —The Wall Street Journal

"Deft, taut fiction. . . . Many English writers have been compared to Evelyn Waugh, often wrongly, but this book can stand with the master's best." —Time

"So exhaustively suspenseful that it should be devoured at one sitting. . . . McEwan fuses a spy-novel plot with themes as venerable as the myth of Adam and Eve." —Newsweek

"Has the spooky, crooked-angled, danger-around-every-corner feeling of a Carol Reid film. It reminded me often of The Third Man and that is no mean feat." —Jonathan Carroll, The Washington Post Book World

"Powerful and disturbing . . . a tour de force." —The New York Times
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 11/29/98 edition (December 29, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385494335
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385494335
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By I. Martinez-Ybor VINE VOICE on August 13, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
McEwan creates well the atmosphere of a post-war, pre-wall Berlin, amplifying our imaginings. The interaction between Brits and Americans is full of subtle humor, and as it later turns out, great regard and humane understanding. The narrative is smooth and concerns an everyman, virgin, British geek assigned to an American intelligence project consisting of building a tunnel crossing the border into the Russian zone to tap underground phone cables through which presumably important matters are discussed (remember, we are in 1948, almost a decade before Sputnik). Love interest and sexual education is provided by an experienced German girl to our Brit, the virgin geek. The writing is so smooth that one doesn't realize one is turning pages and reading on at a rate as if one were reading a chock-full-of-events thriller when in fact not much is really happening; the tunnel is just chugging along. But McEwan is a "smooth operator" and he is moving you along, hinting at tension, to the point you are expectant of actions or revelations in the intelligence component of the novel to pop-up any minute and throw everything topsy-turvy.

Rest assured McEwan is too smart to do that. Nothing happens as such that you are aware of for three quarters of the book until our everyman, the somewhat endearing British geek is plunged into a grand guignol not of his making and totally alien to the place where you would have expected the excitement you were owed to come from.(After all, you bought the book and it was sold to you as a thriller, and after all, it takes place in thriller-city and all major protagonists except two are freeks and geeks and goons and guards mostly in uniform and with varying levels of security clearance in the intelligence services of the powers which split this city.
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Format: Paperback
This is a really unusual book, esp coming from a writer of Ian McEwan's stature. It's part psychological horror, part espionage, part mystery, part coming-of-age, part character study - and it's splendid.
Set in 1954 in Berlin, before The Wall was built, it's the `true' story of the construction of a secret spy tunnel so the Brits and the Americans could spy on the Russians, whom they no longer trusted. Much to his surprise, Leonard Marnham, an extraordinarily innocent and naïve British postal technician, is recruited to participate in this top-secret operation. A virgin at age 25, Leonard falls in love with a pretty German divorcee, and his initiation into the pleasures of a sexual relationship follows. The couples becomes engaged, but their world collapses into macabre horror on the night of their engagement party. The 80-plus pages that follow this horrific event are gruesome and spell-binding at the same time in a way that only a superb writer could possibly handle.
The ending, leap ahead 30 years to 1986, feels a bit contrived and distanced, esp after the intense and personal material that's just been revealed.
At its best, it rivals Pulp Fiction and Fargo for explicit shock value. At its worst...well, it doesn't have a `worst.' It's really, really good.
But: Ian McEwan???? Who knew?
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The story first (because McEwan - unlike Amis and Rushdie and even Barnes - is first and foremost a storyteller; his great skill with words ably assists that task but it never gets in the way).
Berlin. A short time after the second world war. Leonard Marnham (an Englishman away from home - his mother, his father - for the first time in his short life) is our narrator. He is part of a project to dig a tunnel from what is termed American soil through to what is termed Russian soil, the intention being to place various taps on the Russian communications systems. He also has to contend with the rivalry that develops between English and US officers. Alongside all of which, he meets and falls in love with a German girl called Maria.
The project - Project Gold - was in fact a reality. It occurred, in much the same way recounted in the book. Leonard and Maria are fictions. The fact and the fictions weave a merry dance, but that is beside the point.
What is the point - and the point that should encourage you to read (and not just read this - read pretty much everything by Ian McEwan, bar "Amsterdam" which is weak) - is the skill which he brings to bear in creating images that remain with you long after you finish reading. Time after time (the balloon chase in "Enduring Love", the throat cutting in "The Comfort of Strangers", the soldiers brain seeping from beneath poorly fixed bandages in "Atonement", the dismemberment of a corpse here, in "The Innocent") you are left with a clutch of significant, striking, visceral images (images that often remain after other books rob you of a clear memory of the twists and turns of the plot).
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Format: Paperback
This is such an old school novel. I was thinking for the first half that it bore a striking resemblance to the better Graham Green. But as I kept working my way through the pages, the laconic prose kept putting me off. Don't get me wrong, the pages in this book flow like a molasses dream. But the story builds so slowly that it becomes frustrating. The main character is not very intelligent, and as a reader you will be jumping ahead of him, screaming at him like he was the blond bimbo in a horror flick to run out of the house. So as the story builds at its slooooow pace, and the `unsophisticated postal technician' Leonard Marnham frustratingly gets batted about like a moth in a box, we are left not as entranced readers, but as frustrated onlookers. That is my main beef with this story. I could not enjoy myself spending time with this character or the circumstances. McEwan did a remarkable job in writing this and pacing the story, he just never gave us a character that we as readers could relate to.

I have never read McEwan before, and I am looking forwards to trying my hand at another of his novels. It was courageous on his part to create such a novel as this, and I respect him greatly for doing so. But I just don't think that this book worked very well.
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