Machines Like Me

Ian Patterson writes:

There’s a very short story by Diane Williams which came into my mind while I was reading Machines like Me, Ian McEwan’s 15th novel. It’s called ‘Machinery’ and it’s 104 words long. It ends: ‘For some idea of the full range of tools at his disposal, one would have to know what human longings are all about, a calm voice says calmly.’ McEwan has always been interested in human longings, especially when they are warped out of true, but he doesn’t seem to give much thought to what they are all about. He has generally preferred to show them at work from the outside, focusing on their consequences; for him, as he wrote in a Guardian article in 2013, ‘fiction’s generous knack of annotating the microscopic lattice-work of consciousness, the small print of subjectivity’, stops short before it reaches the unconscious, preferring to investigate the more evidently knowable realms of being, and to use realism to think about reality.

(LRB 9 May 2019)

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