Critical Mass

Seven out of ten


In New Zealand for a literary festival, Ian McEwan dutifully submits to a Q-and-A, and what’s refreshing is his refusal to play the Great Man. Asked how much talent he has compared to other writers, he limits his response to a single word: “Seven.” We also learn that his latest project, just completed, is a libretto for an opera entitled For You. It seems to be about a contemporary Don Giovanni, and in the author’s phrase, “It all ends badly.” And finally, McEwan touches on the plagiarism flap of 2006, when he was accused of pillaging Lucilla Andrews’s No Time for Romance to bulk up the period flavor in Atonement. What, asks the interviewer, is the most common question that the author hears from readers? “They want to know where I get my ideas from,” is the response. “I’m tempted to say I go to a secondhand bookshop and find some book that’s long out of print and copy them out. But you’ll meet a journalist with no sense of irony and before you know it there’ll be some headline.”