Kate Rothwell alerted me to this little tidbit by badgerbag regarding allegations that Ian McEwan plagiarized parts of romance author Lucilla Andrews’ memoirs in his tremendously well-received novel, Atonement.
I’ll admit up front that Atonement ranks as both one of my favorite books of all time and one the best-written books I’ve had the privilege to read, so finding out about the plagiarism came as a shock. It was almost like finding out my best friend had been cheating on her husband without my knowledge all this time; there’s a distinct feeling of how could you? to my reaction. Really, there’s no denying that the one excerpted passage in Atonement bears more than a coincidental resemblance to Andrews’ memoirs.
However, distressing though the news is, and I really think McEwan should cop to stealing instead of sputtering nonsense about the difficulty of making up realistic treatments to decades-old ailments, I think badgerbag’s reaction to the article itself strikes me as somewhat out of proportion. Yes, women authors have a tougher time of it, and yes, fiction written by and aimed at women is quite consistently denigrated and played down, but the tone of the article is quite respectful of Andrews. What I do feel, however, is that McEwan is getting off lightly because he’s a literary fiction author, and because Atonement is, to be frank, a masterpiece of writing. These two factors seems to have softened the outrage from the literary community. Shit, much as I’d hate to admit it, it’s probably softened my reaction—well, not so much the literary fiction author bit (I share Sara Donati’s opinion that lit fic is a genre in and of itself, and not so much a statement of quality) as the whole “Atonement being one of my all-time favorite books” bit.
I’m also really curious as to whether the *ahem* borrowing extends beyond the one passage excerpted in The Daily Mail. I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on Andrews’ memoir and read it side-by-side with Atonement.