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My Purple Scented Novel

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‘You will have heard of my friend the once celebrated novelist Jocelyn Tarbet, but I suspect his memory is beginning to fade… You’d never heard of me, the once obscure novelist Parker Sparrow, until my name was publicly connected with his. To a knowing few, our names remain rigidly attached, like the two ends of a seesaw. His rise coincided with, though did not cause, my decline… I don’t deny there was wrongdoing. I stole a life, and I don’t intend to give it back. You may treat these few pages as a confession.’

My Purple Scented Novel follows the perfect crime of literary betrayal, scrupulously wrought yet unscrupulously executed, published to celebrate Ian McEwan’s 70th birthday.

34 pages, Paperback

First published March 28, 2016

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About the author

Ian McEwan

155 books15.3k followers
Ian McEwan studied at the University of Sussex, where he received a BA degree in English Literature in 1970 and later received his MA degree in English Literature at the University of East Anglia.

McEwan's works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976 for his first collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and the Prix Fémina Etranger (1993) for The Child in Time; and Germany's Shakespeare Prize in 1999. He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction numerous times, winning the award for Amsterdam in 1998. His novel Atonement received the WH Smith Literary Award (2002), National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award (2003), Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction (2003), and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel (2004). He was awarded a CBE in 2000. In 2006, he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Saturday and his novel On Chesil Beach was named Galaxy Book of the Year at the 2008 British Book Awards where McEwan was also named Reader's Digest Author of the Year.

McEwan lives in London.

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5 stars
804 (23%)
4 stars
1,519 (44%)
3 stars
883 (26%)
2 stars
146 (4%)
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38 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 385 reviews
Profile Image for Adina ( A lot of catching up to do) .
829 reviews3,253 followers
March 6, 2017
My first review that disappeared. I read about other friends complaining that they could not find their reviews but it never happened to me until now. Unfortunately, I read this book before I started to save all my reviews in a word document so I cannot recreate it.

If I remember well, the short story appeared in the New Yorker a few months before Nutshell was published, probably to tease us and make us want to read more from McEwan. The plot has nothing to do with the novel except that both deal with stealing ( someone's life in one case and someone's work in the other case).

I remember that I thought to be typical McEwan so if you like his work it might worth a read.

Profile Image for Debbie.
441 reviews2,795 followers
May 26, 2018
Calling all McEwan fans: Check out this great short story of his!

You know you’re in the hands of a master storyteller when his narrator does something nasty and you instantly forgive him. This narrator is so friendly and sharp. He’s whispering to me, telling me his story all confidential-like. He’s my bud! How could I not like him? Never mind that he’s doing a bad deed and bragging about it!

It always amazes me when a writer can create a vivid and complex character in just a page or so—and have a perfect plot, too. But then again, would I expect anything less from McEwan? (His Nutshell made me nutso happy.)

Favorite line:

“I had sprinkled the pages with the dust of my identity."

I will say that the obnoxiously noisy editor in me saw one little editing crime, and it drove me cuckoo. It appeared in the very first sentence. His memory should have been Your memory of him. Stopped me in my tracks. Argh!!

I recommend this gem to short-story lovers, and, of course, to McEwan fans.

The following links go to the story, both the written and audio versions. The audio version has McEwan as the narrator. Of course, I love his British accent. I read the story and then I listened to it, just because I had to:


Wonder where McEwan came up with this story? Here’s a cool interview:

Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,204 followers
September 5, 2018
McEwan fans will love this short story. The writing is as smooth as ever. I read it while on the bike at the gym this morning. While there wasn’t enough action to elevate my heart rate, it certainly had me thinking about ambition, jealousy, and wondering why he wrote about plagiarism. I’ve read friend’s reviews praising it over the last year and just never got around to it, until I was reminded of it by Elyse this morning. Thanks, Elyse!
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,435 reviews816 followers
November 12, 2022
“He and I were, as we often said, family.”

Two English schoolboys grow up as best friends right through university, where they read (‘major in’) English literature. In adulthood, they become novelists. The narrator marries and has children while his best mate stays single and has greater success with his writing, which leads to fame and a grander lifestyle that includes sports cars and beautiful women.

Surprisingly, they remain best friends, “family”, and visit each other every now and then.

“But of course, there were differences that neither of us could ignore. My place in Durham was friendly enough, but child-trampled, crowded, cold in the winter. The chairs and carpets had been wrecked by a dog and two cats. The kitchen was always full of laundry because that was where the washing machine was.”

I listened to the audio, read by McEwan himself as the narrator, which makes the telling of this story even more delicious. I am not always a fan of his work, but I certainly enjoyed this one. It’s very short and very satisfying.

It was published The New Yorker Magazine in 2016, and you can read it online here.

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews53 followers
September 5, 2018
Thank you *Sharon*, for asking if I had read this short story. It takes 20-30 minutes to read....
It’s 99 cents as a Kindle download....
A little gem!

If you like John Boyne’s new novel “The Ladder To The Sky”,... you’ll enjoy this. Get a little chuckle reading it ‘especially’ after reading John Boyne’s ‘Ladder’ book.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,744 reviews2,274 followers
September 30, 2018
”I had sprinkled the pages with the dust of my identity.”

Having recently read John Boyne’s ’The Ladder to the Sky,’ the theme of plagiarism, plagiarizing the works of your friends, those you love, seems to have shown up in my reading so close together.

This was too short of a story to develop the intense feelings of reading Boyne’s novel, but also had a more likeable literary thief, as well, which brought about very different feelings.

Well worth the very brief time spent to read this very short story!
Profile Image for Javier.
217 reviews128 followers
August 3, 2021
George Saunders, en A Swim in a Pond in the Rain —un ensayo / clase magistral / conversación sobre escritura de relatos— explicaba que un buen cuento es aquel que es capaz de crear en el lector la expectativa de que algo va a suceder. Un cuento extraordinario es el que cumple esa expectativa de un modo inesperado, sorprendiendo al lector.
Ian McEwan consigue ambas cosas de un modo brillante con My Purple Scented Novel. La trama de este relato de menos de 50 páginas —publicado en The New Yorker en 2016— parte de una situación relativamente común en literatura: las crisis creadoras y los celos entre escritores.
You will have heard of my friend the once celebrated novelist Jocelyn Tarbet, but I suspect his memory is beginning to fade. Time can be ruthless with reputation. The association in your mind is probably with a half-forgotten scandal and disgrace. You’d never heard of me, the once obscure novelist Parker Sparrow, until my name was publicly connected with his. To a knowing few, our names remain rigidly attached, like the two ends of a seesaw. His rise coincided with, though did not cause, my decline. Then his descent was my earthly triumph. I don’t deny there was wrongdoing. I stole a life, and I don’t intend to give it back. You may treat these few pages as a confession.

El arranque no oculta nada: dos amigos de los tiempos de la universidad —Jocelyn y Parker, el narrador— quieren ser escritores. De hecho, ambos quieren ser grandes escritores y, sobre todo, famosos. Ambos lo intentan, comienzan a dar sus primeros pasos juntos, leen las historias del otro, se corrigen mutuamente. Como ambos van a triunfar, no necesitan competir —aunque Parker va siempre un poco por delante. Al menos eso es lo que afirma él, que para eso es el narrador, pero en todo caso obtiene mejores notas y es el primero en publicar un relato.
A partir de ahí sus caminos se separan: Jocelyn comete la herejía de escribir un guion televisivo que le lanza a la fama; Parker, en cambio, conoce a Arabella, se casa y tiene un hijo. Ahora tiene responsabilidades y necesita trabajar: su carrera literaria se estanca, enredada en los mil asuntos de la vida cotidiana.
Cuando ambos cumplen los cincuenta sus vidas no pueden ser más diferentes: Jocelyn es una brillante estrella en el firmamento literario y Parker un oscuro padre de familia que ha publicado un puñado de novelas que nadie lee. El hecho de que sigan manteniendo una cierta relación —que convierte a Parker en testigo del lujoso estilo de vida que quien fuera su alma gemela— no hace sino alimentar más sus celos y su sentimiento de que la vida ha sido injusta con él.

El tema de los celos entre escritores es conocido y el lector ya sabe que no lleva a nada bueno. Por otra parte, McEwan, en tan escasas páginas, logra hacer patente cómo el resentimiento y la frustración de apoderan del narrador. Algo está a punto de pasar.
Y, por supuesto, algo sucede. A fin de cuentas, ya en la primera página el narrador advierte que lo que estamos leyendo es una confesión. Sin embargo, el desenlace ideado por McEwan es tan sorprendente que convierte la traición en el más perfecto de los crímenes perfectos.
En la escala de Saunders, un relato extraordinario.
Profile Image for Gabril.
734 reviews162 followers
July 1, 2018
“Il canto della sua prosa era di una bellezza inaudita.”
“Mi godevo semplicemente il calore di un’esperienza straordinaria, una forma di riconoscenza profonda che tutti gli amanti della letteratura conoscono bene”.
Ma Sparrow, il narratore, non è soltanto un appassionato lettore, è anche uno scrittore. Scadente, mediocre e apparentemente rassegnato alla propria mediocrità, ma che continua a frequentare l’amico di gioventù Tarbet a cui invece il successo arride, a quanto pare meritato. E dunque?
Il confronto sarà, come sempre, la lotta tra due ego e anche quella tra la luce e l’ombra, un motivo classico della letteratura di tutti i tempi. McEwan riesce a riassumerla in un breve, esemplare racconto, a cui seguono le riflessioni sull’io “come forma narrativa, come storia che raccontiamo a noi stessi” e che costituisce il trend della narrativa moderna; e -sia chiaro- quel genio di Jane Austin ha decisamente anticipato la rivoluzione romanzesca di Flaubert.

Due testi brevi, ma il tocco di McEwan è come al solito speciale.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,048 reviews904 followers
June 22, 2018
As someone who tends to put writers on a pedestal, it came as a shock to find out that they can be just as petty, ego-driven as the mere mortals.

This is a very short short story about plagiarism. The worst of all, it's about stealing from your only friend, your best friend.

It was an enjoyable read, albeit, I needed it more. Good thing there are still so many McEwan books I haven't read yet.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,212 followers
September 1, 2019
Neat short story published in the New Yorker about the rivalry/friendship between two authors - and with a cheeky nod to McEwan's own relationship wih Martin Amis, whose The Information is explicitly referenced as is Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote.

Bought out as a book to celebrate McEwan's birthday but the story is about 5-6 pages long and available on the New Yorker website.

Published after Sweet Tooth it was another indicator of a welcome return to form and move away from the more smug preachy novels (which began with Saturday through to The Children's Act).

3 stars (not 4 simply as it is so short)

Will be interesting to see which McEwan wrote Machines Like Me. [Addendum: back to Preachy it seems]
Profile Image for Gabriele Pallonetto.
117 reviews130 followers
January 10, 2019
Questo libricino si compone di 2 parti.
La prima che è un racconto breve e la seconda che è un saggio.
Questa cosa è bene specificarla perché non la sapevo ed infatti ho affrontato la lettura pensando ad un libro con 2 racconti... ERRORE!

Ma andiamo con ordine.

Il racconto che da il nome al libro mi è piaciuto moltissimo, mi ha ricordato per alcuni versi "Il libraio che imbrogliò l'Inghilterra" di Roald Dahl.
Se dovessi descriverlo con un aggettivo userei: "pulito"!
Una scrittura bella, chiara, dritta al punto (come deve essere una scrittura da racconto breve) che descrive con un ritmo costante, senza brusche ed antiestetiche (si può dire?) accelerazioni, quello che viene considerato "il crimine letterario perfetto"!

Ecco... dopo un racconto così carino mi aspettavo di leggerne un altro ed invece...

Il saggio!
Dopo la delusione iniziale di questa notizia l'ho cominciato a leggere con una leggera diffidenza.
Mi ha preso fin da subito ma quando ha cominciato a fare citazioni su citazioni e a dilungarsi per troppe pagine ho quasi avuto l'impulso di abbandonarlo.

Non ho mai letto nulla di Ian McEwan ma a questo punto ho proprio tanta voglia di approfondire la sua conoscenza, magari con un bel romanzo questa volta!
Profile Image for Ashley Marilynne Wong.
380 reviews21 followers
July 31, 2017
4.5 stars. Cheesy yet literary, this is one of those distinctly McEwanian works that are controversial and thought-provoking. McEwan's excellent reading of his short story is available on the New Yorker site and I highly recommend listening to it. The narrator and main character in the story is a despicable person who nonetheless needs to be sympathise with; this is perfectly projected through McEwan's reading hence my recommendation.
Profile Image for Smriti.
614 reviews567 followers
December 28, 2021
Ian McEwan always does "the fucked up shit" so well. I hope he gets therapy often.
Profile Image for Patricia.
334 reviews43 followers
April 7, 2019
Dieses Bändchen mit zwei Geschichten als Buch zu bewerten, ist schwierig. Müsste ich die beiden Texte getrennt bewerten, würde ich der ersten Geschichte fünf Stern geben, sie hat mir wahnsinnig gut gefallen und wird mit auch lange in Erinnerung bleiben. Die zweite jedoch würde nur einen Stern erhalten, ich hab keine Ahnung, was das sein sollte, ist eine seltsame Geschichte, die ich einfach rasch beendet habe, aber sprachlich wie auch inhaltlich enttäuschend war.
Profile Image for Sakshi Kathuria.
77 reviews51 followers
October 23, 2018
This book was a delicious read despite and maybe because of the short yet brilliant & economically caustic narrative of something that may have happened with him(rumors are rife, you know) in his artistic writer's journey. The subterfuge of the mystery is appreciatively subtle and understated and a mark of great literary writing to me. Besides, this book made me find the most beautiful tapestry of words for a 'Reader'. Here it goes for the delight of all.

"I experienced only the glow of an extraordinary reading experience, a form of profound gratitude familiar to all who love literature.”
Profile Image for Paula Mota.
967 reviews310 followers
June 13, 2019
Simpática esta história de Ian McEwan sobre dois amigos escritores. Curiosamente, o meu livro cheirava mesmo bem, um cheiro a livro novo mas mais intenso do que o habitual. Ou então sou eu que sou sugestionável.
Profile Image for Samuel.
229 reviews31 followers
August 2, 2020
A very enjoyable, engaging short story by Ian McEwan. It tells the story of two friends, both writers, whose careers take completely different paths. The story features a deliciously villainous twist that is perhaps not completely unexpected, but is pretty dramatic and well-executed all the same. McEwan’s characteristic lyrical prose lends itself well to narration and the author does an excellent job bringing his own story to life.
Profile Image for Sharon Metcalf.
734 reviews165 followers
July 2, 2018
My Purple Scented Novel by Ian McEwan was a cleverly written short story. It had the making of a great full length novel but this is not to take anything away from the story that was delivered.

It started out with a declaration about a life taken and the narrator indicates the words that follow can be considered his confession. Well, naturally I was intrigued. Without sharing too many details - it is after all a short story - a one-sided story of two friends unfolded. It spoke to me of unadmitted jeaousies, deceitful behaviours and undeserved acts of magnanimity. I had to wonder about how a person could behave in such an unconscienable way and display what seemed to me a complete lack of remorse. The story kept my interest throughout and left me wishing it had been a full length, purple secnted novel.

Thanks to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley for the free digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,212 reviews35 followers
July 19, 2018
Not my favourite McEwan, but it was a reasonably entertaining way to spend half an hour yesterday evening - I listened to Ian McEwan himself read it here, but the story is also there in text-form if you'd rather read it. An author recounts his career and its parallels with the career of his close friend, until one day he has a change of fortune.
Profile Image for Alfonso D'agostino.
698 reviews51 followers
July 18, 2018
da http://capitolo23.com/2018/07/18/altr...

Doppia lettura: finalmente è mare e si macina fra i dieci minuti al sole a scottar la pelle albina e i quaranta secondi a pucciar con espressione eroica i piedi nell'acqua gelida.

La prima - ahimè- è stata un po' una delusione: intriso dalle prime quattro stagioni di Americans, macinate al ritmo vacanziero con MoglieRiccia, avevo proprio voglia di tuffarmi in una storia di spionaggio, e la biografia di Dusko Popov prometteva faville. In realtà, avendo odiato profondamente il Bond letterario di Fleming, qualche sospetto la quarta di copertina doveva darmelo. Spia contro spia, rappresentato qui sotto (o sopra, a seconda di dove mi leggete) in una sua collocazione balneare, non mi ha trascinato. Massimo rispetto per l'autore e per la sua storia, rischiosa come solo un doppiogiochismo fra nazisti e alleati in piena seconda guerra mondiale può essere, ma per tenermi avvinghiato sarebbero stati necessari qualche nome in meno e un po' di approfondimenti psicologici in più. Più vicino al saggio - senza averne il rigore - che al romanzo biografico, nonostante le intenzioni dichiarate in prefazione. Capisco però che nel 1974, anno di uscita, abbia acceso molte fantasie ancora memori della tragedia di trenta anni prima.

Poche ore più tardi, ci ha pensato Ian McEwan ad allietarmi con un piccolo (55 pagine appena) gioiello: due scritti differenti uniti in un agile volumetto tutto da gustare. Il primo è un racconto che vede protagonisti due amici divenuti romanzieri di diverso successo: è concepito come una sorta di confessione e ci ricorda che fraternità, invidia, affetto e vergogna possono coesistere, nelle giuste condizioni.
Il secondo scritto é un vero e proprio mini-saggio in cui McEwan, partendo dall'immagine dei turisti che si scattano selfie nella veneziana S. Marco, riflette sul concetto di io e ne traccia una storia - colta, affascinante, impossibile da abbandonare - attraverso la storia della letteratura. Insomma, "Il mio romanzo viola profumato" poteva sembrare una operazione commerciale ma ha l'assoluta dignità del libro da leggere e conservare (anche per la copertina, francamente meravigliosa).

Profile Image for Suni.
460 reviews38 followers
July 4, 2018
Questo sottile volume comprende il racconto da cui mutua il titolo e a seguire il saggio L'io.
Li ho letti in ordine ma ora parto da quest'ultimo: è un'analisi, a tratti chiara, a tratti un po' di difficile lettura, sull'identità, e in particolare su come l'io sia reso in letteratura (autobiografica o meno), tenendo ben presente che solo in epoca moderna ne è diventato materia d'interesse (con Montaigne e Shakespeare a fare da apripista).
Venendo invece al racconto, devo dire che mi è piaciuto con riserva, perché uno dei due protagonisti è troppo babbeo per essere vero, mentre l'altro, il narratore, è molto ben riuscito: un bastardo rancoroso e vendicativo che senza alcuna vergogna apparecchia un piano diabolico e allo stesso tempo si atteggia a Gesù Cristo buono e misericordioso.
Decisamente divertente, a proposito del discorso sull'io, è però l'autoreferenzialità dell'autore, che mi pare alludere chiaramente a sé stesso tramite il suo protagonista quando questi, riflettendo sul proprio operato, dice:
«Guardandomi indietro oggi, mi domando se non fossi influenzato dalle dicerie su Lee Israel e le sue contraffazioni, o dal Pierre Menard di Borges, o da Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore di Calvino. O magari da un episodio di un romanzo che avevo letto l’anno prima, L’informazione di Martin Amis. So da fonti attendibili che lo stesso Amis aveva ricavato quell’episodio da una sera passata a bere con un altro scrittore, quello (la memoria non mi assiste) con il nome scozzese e i modi da inglese. Mi è giunta voce che i due amici si divertivano a fantasticare su tutti i modi in cui uno scrittore potrebbe rovinare la vita di un altro.»

Eh be'.
Profile Image for Sofia.
1,144 reviews194 followers
June 11, 2018

One of the best McEwan's in my humble opinion (and I've not read all his oeuvre). The friendship reminded me a bit of his Amersterdam.

This was seeing a master craftsman at his work, where every word has it's place and is necessary. At the same time no unnecessary words or tangents. Superb craftsmanship in my opinion. And I'm still amazed, angry, almost laughing at the audacity. Nah as McEwan says, friendships get complicated like any other thing human.

An ARC gently given by publisher/author via Netgalley in return for a review.
Profile Image for Barbara.
273 reviews213 followers
November 10, 2018
This is a 20 minute read. How can one give 5 stars to something so short? I'm not sure why this was published by itself instead as part of a short story collection. It is the smallest book I've ever seen and I've seen many picture books for small children.

I am a big fan of McEwan and this is pure McEwan. It is entertaining, cleverly done and thought provoking - usual elements in his books. I love the way he presents a moral issue and never tries to influence your opinion. I would highly recommend this.
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