As you know from my previous reading list post I was trying to get through The Innocent by Ian McEwan. I started it and quickly got through the first 100 pages or so, but then it began to lag and I was struggling to keep going, however it did really pick up and I finished the rest of the book in a matter of days. I couldn’t write this post immediately after reading it because if I’m perfectly honest, I wasn’t even sure what my thoughts were about it. Did I like it? Hate it? Something in between? I really didn’t know! After thinking about it a bit more, I think I would give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.
The Innocent is a psychological thriller based in Berlin during the Cold War and follows the coming-of-age of Leonard Marnham, a relatively innocent and proper Englishman who never would have seen himself in the midst of a top-secret operation. Leonard meets a German woman who is 5 years his senior and they begin to have an affair. As the story progresses Leonard begins to become corrupt and soon finds himself committing acts of espionage to cover up the mistakes he has made both in his personal life and professional life. The whole story comes to an unexpected ending many decades in the future from the start of the story, where Leonard reflects on his life as a young man in Berlin who fell in love, spied on the Russians and killed to be free from ties to the past.
I will say up front that if you are squeamish, this is not the book for you. I found myself being so throughly grossed out it took me days to get through a block of 20 pages, simply because I couldn’t bear the gruesomeness. With that being said, it was incredibly gripping and I found myself staying up late into the night just to see how it would end.
This book is a really interesting case study on a person’s character. What would you do for love? If you kill, are you evil? At what point do you break from your morals? It was very thought-provoking and although some bits could be slow, it really dragged you in. McEwan painted such a detailed description of post WWII Berlin and you could really imagine being there and what it was like. The journey takes you through Leonard’s thoughts as he begins to become more corrupt and loses his innocence in every sense of the word and it’s so interesting because you’re so far in it’s hard to know whether to judge or feel sympathy.
The book’s ending jumps to 1989, just before the Berlin Wall fell and it had such a twist that I really was not expecting in the least. Sometimes twists like that can leave an unsavory taste in your mouth because of everything the book was building up to, but this really worked and to be honest, I think is the best way it could have ended.
Although I changed my opinion about this book several times while reading it, overall I really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it if you can handle the grisly bits and degradation of moral character.