Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

The Innocent ()

Granta Best British Novelists (1983)

Typically in a Cold War thriller, particularly one written by a Brit, you'd expect the "innocent" to be a dull-witted American anti-Communist, who comes along, wreaks havoc, and leaves, all the while deluding himself that he's made the world safer for democracy (see Graham Greene's The Quiet American).  But in Ian McEwan's novel, the "innocent" of the title is Leonard Marnham, a young British telephone technician, who has come to a divided Berlin in 1955, to work on one of the great intelligence coups of the Cold War, Operation Gold, a tap on the Soviet telephone lines in a tunnel beneath the city.  Not only is Leonard an innocent when it comes to superpower espionage, he's also a neophyte when it comes to women, so when Maria, an attractive German woman, approaches him in a nightclub and then begins a torrid affair with him, he's too dense to see why it might raise the suspicions.

Inevitably, the story concerns the loss of innocence, and Leonard begins to change in some frightening ways.  Chiefly, he begins to associate himself with the conquering West and Maria with the defeated Germany, treating her with mounting brutality in their lovemaking, until one day he goes too far.  But the lovers make it through this rough patch only to face a crisis when they accidentally kill Maria's ex-husband.  This event triggers a catastrophe of international dimensions, as innocent, now become guilty, brings down everything around him.  There are final ironies here that it would be unfair to prospective readers to discuss; suffice it to say that it turns out that everyone else has been just as innocent of the real world as Leonard seemed, or at least as easily duped.

The book is an adequate spy novel, with some interesting true background--Operation Gold was a real project--and some entertaining psychological twists and turns.  But in a strange way those final ironies serve to blunt the impact of the book, revealing that however corrupting were the effects of the Cold War, we in the West were never sufficiently corrupt to understand what was really going on.


Grade: (C)


Ian McEwan Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Ian McEwan
    -BIO: Ian McEwan (British Council)
    -ENTRY: Ian McEwan: British author,/a> (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
-AUTHOR PAGE: Ian McEwan (Penguin)
    AUDIO ESSAY: Wrestling with Orwell: Ian McEwan on the art of the political novel (Audio Long Reads, from the New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: We are haunted by ghosts – and Vladimir Putin’s sickly dreams (Ian McEwan, 3/05/22, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: George Orwell outside the whale: What the writer teaches us about politics and the imagination in a time of crisis. (Ian McEwan, 12/09/21, Spectator)
-INTERVIEW: Ian McEwan: ‘The perfect novella is always just out of my reach’ Guardian readers: The Atonement author answers your questions on why he continues to write to what he would do if he wasn’t a novelist (The Guardian, 9/16/22)
    -INTERVIEW: Ian McEwan on ageing, legacy and the attack on his friend Salman Rushdie: ‘It’s beyond the edge of human cruelty’ (Lisa Allardice, 9/02/22, Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW: Ian McEwan, The Art of Fiction No. 173 (Interviewed by Adam Begley, ISSUE 162, SUMMER 2002, Paris Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Ian McEwan (The Guardian)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Ian McEwan (Film Reference)
    -Featured Author: Ian McEwan: With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times
    -WIKIPEDIA: Amsterdam
    -EXCERPT: Chapter One of Amsterdam
    -ESSAY: Brexit, the most pointless, masochistic ambition in our country's history, is done (Ian McEwan, 1 Feb 2020, The Guardian)
-ESSAY: Ian McEwan’s Back Again! (Issa Gonzalez, August 31, 2022, B&N)
    -READING GUIDE: Amsterdam (Super Summary)
    -READING GUIDE: Amsterdam (Book Browse)
    -READING GUIDE: Amsterdam Reader’s Guide (Penguin Random House)
    -BOOK CLUB: Booker club: Amsterdam by Ian McEwan: Characters without personality, comedy without mirth – how McEwan's worst novel won the Booker is a deep mystery Ian McEwan (The Guardian, 6 Dec 2011, Sam Jordison)
    -ARTICLE: 'Amsterdam' by Ian McEwan Wins Booker Prize (SARAH LYALL, 10/28/1998, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: 'The Voice of Modern British Fiction' PW Talks with Ian McEwan (Andrew Rosenheim, Feb 25, 2005, Publishers Weekly)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Ian McEwan Interview: How We Read Each Other (Louisiana Channel, Mar 12, 2014)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Author Ian McEwan talks about his latest novel, “Amsterdam,” for which he was awarded the 1998 Booker Prize (Charlie Rose, 01/25/1999)
    -PROFILE: Ian McEwan's Humorous Path To `Amsterdam' (Sylvia Rubin, Feb. 3, 1999, SF Chronicle)
    -INTERVIEW: Ian McEwan, The Art of Fiction No. 173 (Interviewed by Adam Begley, SUMMER 2002, Paris Review)
    -PROFILE: McEwan recounts his missteps (Corydon Ireland, April 18, 2012, Harvard Gazette)
    -PROFILE: The End of Innocence (DAPHNE MERKIN, MARCH 10, 2002, LA Times)
    -ESSAY: The elegant extremist: Ian McEwan has always tempered his shocking stories with polished prose (John Self, July 2023, The Critic)
-ESSAY: The Fivesquare "Amsterdam" of Ian McEwan (ROBERT E. KOHN, 2004, Critical Survey)
    -ESSAY: Reasons to read Ian McEwan, and the ones to avoid: Five of the best, and three of the worst (Eileen Battersby, 9/28/14, Irish Times)
    -ESSAY: Human (In)Consistencies in Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam (Florentina Anghel, December 2016, Romanian Journal of English Studies)
    -ESSAY: Question of Reception Ethics: Amity and Animosity in Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam (Jen-chieh Tsai, Intergrams)
    -ESSAY: The Ethical And Moral Dilemma As Reflected In Ian Mcewan‘s Amsterdam (S.Manikandan, Dr.F.Suji Brindha Theodore, The International journal of analytical and experimental modal analysis)
    -ESSAY: Behind the Scenes: A Study of Denial and Hypocrisy in Ian McEwan’s AMSTERDAM (Darintip Chansit, 1/01/13, Thoughts)
-ARCHIVES: "amsterdam" (The Millions)
    -VIDEO ARCHIVES: Ian McEwan (You Tube)
-REVIEW: of Atonement (Martyn Bedford, Literary Review)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam by Ian Mcewan (WILLIAM H. PRITCHARD, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Nicholas Lazard, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Charles Wyrick, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (The Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Craig Seligman, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Valentina Dordevic, Booksist)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Alain de Botton, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (The Modern Novel)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (All Writes)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Bartleby)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Victoria Pritchard, Everything Express)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Reading Matters)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Andrew Blackman)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Bob Corbett,
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (C G Fewston)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (Peter Mathews, English Literature Today)
    -REVIEW: of Amsterdam (We Need to Talk About Books)
    -REVIEW: of On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Daphne Merkin, NY Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Lessons by Ian McEwan (Niamh Donnelly, Independent ie)
    -REVIEW: of Lessons (Beejay Silcox, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Lessons (The Modern Novel)
    -REVIEW: of Lessons (Joseph O'Connor, Independent))
    -REVIEW: Of Lessons (Adam Begley, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: of Lessons (David James, The Critic)
    -REVIEW: of Lessons (Claire Lowdon, Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Lessons (Heller McAlpin, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Lessons (Holly Smith, Washington Independent Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:
-READING GROUP GUIDE : The Innocent  by Ian McEwan (Random House)
    -REVIEW : of The Innocent by Ian McEwan (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Innocent (1990) (George Stade, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Innocent (Florian Schnurer, East West Conflict in English Literature)

    -FILMOGRAPHY : Ian McEwan (
    -INFO : The Innocent (1993) (Imdb)
    -REVIEW : of The Innocent (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Innocent (Rita Kempley, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of The Innocent (PETER STACK, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of The Innocent (Barbara Shulgasser, SF EXAMINER)
    -REVIEW : of The Innocent (LIZ BRAUN, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of The Innocent (KEVIN THOMAS, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : An Affair to Dismember (Todd Anthony, Miami New Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Innocent (James Berardinelli's ReelViews )
    -REVIEW : of The Innocent (John Hartl,

    -ESSAY :  Lies, Spies and Memories : Cold war cronies--from both sides--meet up to relive the good old days of international espionage (CHARLES P. WALLACE, September 27, 1999, TIME)
    -PROFILE : George Blake AKA:Georg Behar British Double Agent  for Soviets  (1922- )
    -ESSAY : The KGB vs. The CIA: The Secret Struggle (PBS)
    -ESSAY : Great Britain's Late Discovery of a Spy (Michael Heun, Berliner Morgenpost)
    -ESSAY : The Wall