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The Innocent

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  8,604 ratings  ·  668 reviews
Psychological thriller set in Berlin during the Cold War, based on an actual (but little known) incident which tells of the secret tunnel under the Soviet sector which the British and Americans built in 1954 to gain access to the Russians' communication system. The protagonist, Leonard Marnham, is a 25-year-old, naive, unsophisticated English post office technician who is ...more
Paperback, 226 pages
Published 2005 by Vintage (first published May 10th 1990)
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Cy Probably best to start with the title: The Innocent. Who are the innocent? How does their innocence take shape?

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3.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,604 ratings  ·  668 reviews


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Mark
Oct 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mark by: My bookshop guardian angel
This is an odd book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Set in mid 1950's Berlin it is the story of a young Englishman assigned to a joint British-American surveillance team. The mistrust and dislike of allies and comrades in arms is quietly stated but undeniable and there were tongue in cheek descriptions by McEwan of the wonderfully contorted levels of security which purportedly existed so as to preserve the safety and secrecy of the work and yet seemed just to encourage people to seek desperately to ...more
Claire Fuller
My #librarianhusband recommended this book, plus it was one of only two Ian McEwan's I haven't read and I'm having a bit of a completest moment, so I took it down from our shelves. My version was published in 2001 and quite likely my husband read it then. 'It's about spies, I think,' he said. 'In Berlin. I think I enjoyed it.'
Well, it is about a kind of useless spy / telephone engineer called Leonard - the innocent of the title. Leonard works on a secret tunnel, that is under the Russian territo
...more
Martine
'To innocence. And to Anglo-German co-operation.'

This is what Leonard, a stuffy English engineer who has been sent to post-war, pre-wall Berlin to assist in an attempt to tap Soviet landlines, and Maria, a mysterious German divorcee who initiates him in the art of love, say to each other at their engagement party. Just a few pages later, they lose their innocence in the most gruesome fashion imaginable, after which Anglo-German co-operation takes a back seat and confusion and paranoia take over.
...more
Schmacko
Feb 23, 2012 rated it liked it
I wish I knew what this 1990 novel was trying to be, because as well written as the prose is, The Innocent feels all over the place. It’s a post-WWII Berlin spy novel, but it’s mostly about politics – not so much between the Russians and the west, but between Germany, the Americans, and the British. It’s also a coming-of-age story, in a way; though the protagonist is 30, he’s still a bit naïve. Finally, there are small turns in the plot that seem unlikely and then seriously improbable, and fille ...more
Tripp
Feb 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
With Ian McEwan. Atonement remains one of my favorite books, but when I tried Saturday I just couldn't connect with the book. When I saw his book the Innocent, set in one of my favorite periods, the mid-Cold War, I just had to try it. The setting turns out to be relatively unimportant. This isn't really a Cold War thriller, but is a classic McEwan exploration of the inner life of a few people.

In this case, we have the inexperienced British civil servant, Leonard , who is sent to work on a joint
...more
Manny
When you're in love, you do strange things, but they don't seem strange at the time. Last night we watched Deep End, a 1970 movie starring Jane Asher which explored this theme well. The main character is a shy 15 year old boy, who becomes obsessed with the lovely Ms Asher. His actions all seem more or less logical in the context of the story; but somehow they lead to a brilliant and disquieting final scene where they're standing in a disused swimming pool, boiling snow in an electric kettle that ...more
Seemita
Dec 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
Hmmm... Looks like either I had too much expectation from the book or the book indeed was not upto McEwan's standards.

The story seemed to drag a little although it could have been an absolute racer with its setting of spying, espionage and clandestine decryptions. The story reeked of some inconsequential details, which can advance a story if used in moderation, but the over-usage here only tamed the rhythm. I also found the central character, Leonard, way too confused, not as much owing to his
...more
Faye
Read: May 2017

I am really beginning to love Ian McEwan's work. The Innocent is the fifth novel I have read by McEwan in recent years and while it is not quite up at the heady heights of Atonement and The Cement Garden in my opinion, it is a wonderful novel in its own right; incredibly well written, dark, atmospheric, funny in places and tragic in others.

The Innocent is based around the real events of Operation Gold; a joint task force of American and British intelligence in Berlin who dug tunne
...more
Maggi
Nov 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
I think someone else said it first, but this book is not for the faint of heart. Several chapters are almost disgustingly grisly. Make that totally. And I want to warn you right up front because I was too far in to get out at that point. But ultimately, this is another solid read from Ian McEwan with its plot twists and turns as well as incisive characterizations tossed out in a character's observations, revealing depths of human frailty in a single remark. The protagonist's sexual awakening is ...more
Sean
Jul 24, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
McEwan does the Cold War thriller. An excellent read by one of the best living English language authors. And for the record, I had sufficient testosterone to get through, in one go, the gut-wrenching scene located amidships. It was graphic, but don't let the namby-pamby reviewers telling you they had to set down the book, overcome by revulsion and fear as they were, steer you in the wrong direction. To them I say, there's always Maeve Binchy.
Lauren
Dec 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I love-love-love Ian McEwan, and I'm going to remember this holiday season as the time I "rediscovered" Ian McEwan. I read a lot of books by him a few years ago, but not ALL of his books. And I read everything new he publishes. But I ended up reading this book rather inadvertently. It just came out on the Kindle in December, and I stumbled across it and "preordered" it thinking that it was a new publication -- only to later discover that he had written it in '89 and it was only the Kindle versio ...more
Will Ansbacher
Jul 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is not a thriller or a spy novel, although those are elements of the story. It is, like McEwan's other books, a tightly woven portrait - this time of a young naive Englishman in Berlin in 1955. Sometimes McEwan is just too perfectly contrived - like "Saturday" was - but here I had no idea how everything would turn out. There is tension and menace right from the start, but it is nothing like you would expect, and the ending is entirely appropriate. I couldn't put it down - read it in two nig ...more
brian
depalma should direct the film version. that terrific fucking final set piece all slowed down and stretched out over 60 pages, all gory and demented... shit yeah! i'd also like to dig up hitchcock's grave and have depalma cockslap him a few times across his pale jowly cheek. the fat bastard deserves it.
Helle
Apr 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
(4,5) I thoroughly enjoyed this strange romance/spy novel/period piece/twisted and grisly tale, second only to Atonement of McEwan’s novels, in my opinion (from the six novels I’ve read by him so far).

I found the novel in Berlin a few days ago and bought it without hesitation: It’s by one of my favourite authors, and the cover featured The Brandenburger Gate, which I saw every day when we stepped out of our hotel or returned to it. As the main character in the novel visits Berlin in two differe
...more
Juliet Marsh
Nov 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Books like this one are hard to describe. Having been familiar with Ian McEwan’s work already, I picked The Innocent out of a list of options for my seminar with the topic of Berlin. As the story is set in the 1950s, I’m not sure if McEwan ever experienced the destruction of the city himself, although it has been brought to my attention, that he seems to have spent some part of his childhood in Germany, but I haven’t yet managed to find any clear sources on that. However, it appears that he had ...more
Heidi Liu
Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
This.. was just a really disgusting book, on so many levels. There's a lot to be said (and very little of it good) for a novel in which every character is genuinely dis likable. Leonard is self-obsessed and pathetically ignorant as opposed to innocent. McEwan tries to make the point that he transforms throughout the book but he really doesn't. He is the same selfish and irresponsible little man thrown amidst matters that are much bigger than him, yet he handles them with regards only to his own ...more
Laysee
Sep 02, 2012 rated it liked it
The Innocent by Ian McEwan is a psychological thriller set in West Berlin, 1954, during the cold war. Leonard Marnham, a 25-year-old British post office technician, was employed by the Americans on a joint British-American surveillance project to install signals in the tunnel they were building to tap the phone lines of the Soviet High Command.

Leonard was well brought up and shy but quickly lost both his physical and political innocence. His love interest was a blond German divorcee, Maria Eckd
...more
Bart
Sep 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Literary fiction fans
This novel is exceptional.

It is rare that a sentimental novel can make a contemporary reader feel covetous of the experience he has had with it, but The Innocent does just that.

As a reader, one knows what McEwan is doing and what he is going to do. When he wishes to work a reader over, he puts the novel deep in the modern past, makes his transitions abrupt and then finishes the story with reminiscences from a present-day character.

In this way, The Innocent is very similar to the formula McEwan f
...more
Jennifer
Jul 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
**SPOILERS**

One of my 2014 challenge categories is Berlin. I wanted to read books set in Berlin, but not set during WWII. I was especially interested in Cold War Berlin, reconstruction, that sort of thing. The Innocent started off as a book about British/American collaboration on a project - essentially spying on the Russians. The main character, Leonard, is a young British man who has come to Berlin to help with the electronics part of the project and the entire story is told from his point of
...more
Ann
Aug 31, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book you think you're starting is utterly different from the book you finish. That is a compliment. First half is a Cold War thriller written by a more reserved John le Carre, second half is a black comedy of the most high-macabre, queasily tense variety. The Innocent doesn't quite reach the (ridiculously high) bar set by Amsterdam, and part of me misses the sustained sensitivity of books like Saturday (what? I liked it.), but there is plenty of the fine-grained observation we know and love ...more
Lesley
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
The only thing that redeemed this book from one star to two was the author's note on the last page, revealing that this fictional story was based very loosely on an actual MI6-CIA operation, with one character having actually lived. Apart from this tiny bit of truth it had no business calling itself a spy novel; what a laboriously, dreary waste of my time. The only reason I finished it so quickly was because I skipped over a dozen or so of the most boring descriptions of tunnelling and communica ...more
Asma
May 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: eng-hist-lit
Far less than my expectations, Schade ! nevertheless it's acceptable as a love story that has nothing to do deeply with the beginning of the cold war or the kind of life in Berlin just after the war. therefrom I classify it as a love story , even though the central theme is on spy. This is because I've been and will be obsessed with knowing more about the nature of the life Berliners were living during that period of time, and thought this novel would introduce something new but, unfortunately, ...more
Pascale
Apr 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
For the first 130 pages I was not sure whether this was a spy novel or a romance or even both. Then the story developed into a thriller full of dread and suspense! Ian McEwan once more convinced me of his genius!
Rebecca McNutt
Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Set during the Cold War, The Innocent is an exciting and slightly surreal thriller that follows a young technician who finds himself wrapped up in secrets and romance and the times in general.
Maarten Wagemakers
I'm not sure why I even have so many books by Ian McEwan in my library. I suppose he first appeared on my radar back in high school when The Cement Garden was part of a budget set of classic novels that students could order. As it was the thinnest book in the whole set it ended up on my shortlist that year (to the horror of my teacher who thought McEwan was a gimmicky hack), and despite its macabre nature it somehow resonated - enough anyway that I started picking up books from second-hand store ...more
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
The Innocent was written by Ian McEwan in the 19th century. It is widely considered a thriller. Also, the book has been adopted into a movie which I have not yet watched. It was this fact, that influenced my decision to purchase it. In the past I have made the same decisions with good results and also with contrary reviews. For this case, I got mixed feelings.

The writer never pursued the American-Soviet cold war in depth. The novel was set in East Germany after world war II. That section was un
...more
Rob Kitchin
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Innocent is a psychological thriller set in Berlin in 1954/55 as the Cold War starts to get warmer in the city. For much of the book, there is no thriller element, with the tale an in-depth character study of a naïve British telephone engineer and a German divorcee who works for the British Army, and the anatomy of their relationship. Leonard and Maria meet and fall in love, but their insecurities and circumstances mean their love affair does not run as a smoothly as it might. McEwan is very ...more
Nick Davies
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
I read this in a single day, but think it will have a long-lasting impact nevertheless. Very cleverly built with a great number of touchingly accurate observations about human nature and people's internal lives, the 1950s setting of Berlin was brought to live with all the post-warn tensions and political machinations of the time. It drew me in, and the first three quarters felt more of a character/situation study than a drama.

The last quarter of the story was very dramatic and unexpected indeed,
...more
Jillian
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am a fan of McEwan and want to give this 4 for the writing, but I found the story a bit preposterous. It begins promisingly and develops with a steadily building tension and foreboding. There are some beautiful depictions of Maria and Leonard's blossoming relationship, an especially memorable passage about Maria's thrill at having a sexually inexperienced man to teach. I just couldn't buy the gory climax and ridiculous suitcase episode. However, Leonard's reaction to the crime, and his obsessi ...more
John Scothern
Jan 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Easy reading & excellent character studies, I thought, with plenty of twists - some more convincing than others - along the way .
Does this enthuse me enough to read another book by the author? ... not sure.
Regardless of this, a good read & I look forward to my next trip to Berlin...
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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
...more
“He needed that time edged with boredom in which fantasy could flourish.” 2 likes
“You know what the best course I ever took at college was? Biology. We studied evolution. And I learned something important.’ Now he included Leonard in his gaze. ‘It helped me choose my career. For thousands, no, millions of years we had these huge brains, the neo-cortex, right? But we didn’t speak to each other, and we lived like fucking pigs. There was nothing. No language, no culture, nothing. And then, suddenly, wham! It was there. Suddenly it was something we had to have, and there was no turning back. So why did it suddenly happen?’ Russell shrugged. ‘Hand of God?’ ‘Hand of God my ass. I’ll tell you why. Back then we all used to hang out together all day long doing the same thing. We lived in packs. So there was no need for language. If there was a leopard coming, there was no point saying, Hey man, what’s coming down the track? A leopard! Everyone could see it, everyone was jumping up and down and screaming, trying to scare it off. But what happens when someone goes off on his own for a moment’s privacy? When he sees a leopard coming, he knows something the others don’t. And he knows they don’t know. He has something they don’t, he has a secret, and this is the beginning of his individuality, of his consciousness. If he wants to share his secret and run down the track to warn the other guys, then he’s going to need to invent language. From there grows the possibility of culture. Or he can hang back and hope the leopard will take out the leadership that’s been giving him a hard time. A secret plan, that means more individuation, more consciousness.’ The band was starting to play a fast, loud number. Glass had to shout his conclusion, ‘Secrecy made us possible,’ and Russell raised his beer to salute the theory.” 1 likes
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