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The Innocent

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  9,981 ratings  ·  788 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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Average rating 3.71  · 
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 ·  9,981 ratings  ·  788 reviews

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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
'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.
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
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
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
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
This was the one McEwan book I thought would finally have me say, okay, at least he wrote one novel I enjoyed. But, alas, no. This book was a waste of time. It's coined a psychological thriller but there was nothing 'thriller' about it. I was stone cold bored through the whole thing. I felt nothing. As always, stupid, pointless characters, rubbish scenes, and nothing to connect with. Halfway through, I honestly couldn't care less what happened to anyone, I just wanted it to be over. This is my 1 ...more
Nandakishore Mridula
After having had a love-hate relationship with Atonement and having disliked Amsterdam, I was prepared to be disappointed going into this book. But Ian McEwan threw a googly and quite comprehensively bowled me.

This novel, set in 1955 Berlin when the Cold War had not yet intensified to the stage where the USA and USSR were continuously at each other's throat, could be called a suspense thriller. In fact, that is the mould it has been set in. But McEwan has cleverly stretched the boundaries of the
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
Feb 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: miscellaneous
My first impression on starting this book was, "oh, goody, a semi historical novel with lots of detail on building the tunnel under Berlin to tap the Russian communication cables. " And so it begins, but then morphs into a much darker tale about guilt and innocence. (I should have known, having read other McEwan books.)

I will spare you what happens to avoid spoilers; most of that is available elsewhere anyway. McEwan's genius his his ability to dig into the subconscious of his characters and ro
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
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
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
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. ...more
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
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. ...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
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
Diane Law
Sep 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Reading outside my usual genre.
This book is better than the 3* I have given it. But it was a bit gory for my tastes. An interesting story and well told.
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
Jul 01, 2014 rated it it was ok

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
Oct 21, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Downright dogshit of a book

to expand on my initial reaction: what the fuck was this shit. the good parts weren't original and the original parts weren't particularly original either. despite its backdrop of Berlin at one of the most interesting periods in its history, it wanders off in increasingly predictable directions with its boring and obnoxious protagonist and shallow secondary characters. (the gore chapter makes it seem like McEwan realised this too...)
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. A very engaging, well written, suspenseful novel about Leonard Markham, a 25 year old Englishman who was in Berlin in 1955, employed by the British Government in spying with the Americans, on the Russians. His job required him to work in a tunnel using equipment to intercept Russian transmissions.

Leonard meets and falls in love with a German woman, Maria, who is a 31 divorcee. Their relationship blossoms. However Maria’s ex husband, Otto, usually invades Maria’s apartment a couple of
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and the direction the plot took. The development from the seemingly innocent characters that are introduced at the start to the almost-haunted characters that are left by the end was unexpected, but made the plot engaging and surprisingly exciting. I was not prepared for how dark and gritty the plot rapidly became from about the halfway point but it was executed well through the sophisticated writing style.
Ray Copeland
Jan 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Typical McEwan fare really. A crime is committed and its ramifications play out across the years. It's well-written and gripping. If you haven't read any McEwan I'd recommend this as a good introduction to him, although it certainly isn't his finest work. ...more
Julia Amalie
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
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
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
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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

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“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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