‘I remained beyond mortality’s reach. Death and decay were for others.’ – Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

May 20, 2019 at 1:02 pm (Book review, books)

I want to set down my thoughts about this book before looking at the reviews, which I’m eager to read.

First – let it be said – for me, this was a page turner. Right from the moment that Charlie Friend brings his newly acquired ‘Adam’ into his home and into his life, I had no idea how events would unfold, and I wanted badly to find out. From that moment – right  from the novel’s beginning – I had that careening roller coaster feeling; I never knew what was going to happen next. At the same time, I was getting to know Charlie – an okay guy, not entirely admirable – and his upstairs neighbor Miranda, with whom he has fallen in love. Naturally she gets embroiled too in Charlie’s Adam project.

Adam is a facsimile human  – nothing like the clunky robots one sees nowadays. He is remarkably close to being the real thing – in appearance, that is. As for his more subtle  attributes – knowledge, responses to human emotions, language, so many other things – these must all be uploaded into his brain-like mechanism. The online manual runs to 470 pages. The owner has a fair degree of choice with regard to the settings.

To say more would be to give away too much. Meanwhile, Ian McEwan’s writing is provocative and precise, as always. Here, Charlie and Adam have been conversing, in a way that has made Charlie feel profoundly uneasy:

The little black rods in his eyes were shifting their alignment. As I stared, they appeared to swim, even to wriggle, left to right, like microorganisms mindlessly intent on some distant objective, like sperm migrating towards an ovum. I watched them, fascinated–harmonious elements lodged with in the supreme achievement of our age. Our own technical accomplishment was leaving us behind, as it was always bound to, leaving us stranded on the little sandbar of our finite intelligence.

‘…the little sandbar of our finite intelligence.’ At times, I myself feel as though that sandbar is becoming steadily narrower.

A word to the wise: There’s a strong sexual undercurrent present in this novel. Not as blatant as it was in Nutshell, but all the more potent, for that fact.

I have to admit, it’s very difficult for me to write dispassionately about Ian McEwan. I find him brilliant.

There are certain authors I read no matter what they write. Ian McEwan is one of them. Over the course of more than 40 years and some dozen and a half books — including Amsterdam, Atonement, and The Children Act — his generally realist, propulsive work reveals an abiding preoccupation with both the repercussions of deceit and how life can change in an instant.

Heller McAlpin, NPR

There are some pokey moments in this novel, some dead nodes. But McEwan has an interesting mind and he is nearly always good company on the page. In whichever direction he turns, he has worthwhile commentary to make.

Dwight Garner, New York Times

Ultimately, Machines Like Me is a novel about the power of novels. Charlie realises that his stance regarding his purchase has been shaped by literature. “The imagination,” he says, “fleeter than history, than technological advance, had already rehearsed this future in books…” This is a novel that holds up the form as an example of the unreplicable subtlety of the human mind. While Adam composes haikus of stultifying banality to Miranda, he finds the novel’s obsession with misunderstandings and reversals obsolete in an age when technology has colonised the private life. Novels, McEwan is saying, do something that robots can’t: they are a heroic record of our imperfections, a celebration of the flaws that make us human.

Alex Preston, The Guardian

Half a century ago, Philip K. Dick asked, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” and now Ian McEwan is sure those androids are pulling the wool over our eyes.

His new novel, “Machines Like Me,” takes place in England in the 1980s, but it’s an uncanny variation of the past we remember.

Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Ian McEwan

1 Comment

  1. Angie Boyter said,

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