As many of you know my thing with Ian McEwan teeters on the love/hate spectrum. I suspected that the gimmicky 70th birthday short story My Purple Scented Novel would tip the scales into the negative, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Firstly, the short story was written prior to the gimmick. It was published in The New Yorker on the 28th March 2016. Fast forward to June 2018 and Penguin Random House decide that it would be a nifty thing to celebrate one of their most well-known authors 70th birthday with a bookish treat.
The short story form seems to be undergoing a renaissance in recent years. Perhaps they are the perfect way (even the only way) to engage the easily distracted modern reader from their devices. A short story can be read during a lunch break (like I read this one) or on the bus ride home. The modern short story doesn’t involve any deep level commitment of time or energy. At least this one didn’t for me.
My Purple Scented Novel remind me of, or perhaps sat closely next to Sweet Tooth in theme, in that it discusses, dissects and lampoons the literary world that McEwan inhabits,
We were ambitious. We wanted to be writers. famous writers, even great writers.
It features his usual exploration of deceit, loyalty and memory, with a topical nod to fake news. A self-referential moment about halfway through made me laugh out loud,
Or an episode in a novel I’d read the year before, The Information, by Martin Amis. I’m reliably informed that Amis himself derived that episode from an evening drinking with another novelist, the one (memory fails me) with the Scottish name and the English attitude. I heard that the two friends entertained themselves by dreaming up all the ways one writer might ruin the life of another.
Which basically gives you the premise for this story as well.
My Purple Scented Novel is a cautionary tale for the modern wannabe novelist. A bite-sized taste of McEwan at his cynical best.
The Child in Time
On Chesil Beach
The Best & Worst of McEwan (featuring Enduring Love, Atonement, Saturday, On Chesil Beach, Solar & Sweet Tooth)