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Black Dogs

3.44  ·  Rating details ·  10,543 ratings  ·  730 reviews
Set in late 1980s Europe at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Black Dogs is the intimate story of the crumbling of a marriage, as witnessed by an outsider. Jeremy is the son-in-law of Bernard and June Tremaine, whose union and estrangement began almost simultaneously. Seeking to comprehend how their deep love could be defeated by ideological differences Bernard and ...more
Paperback, 149 pages
Published December 29th 1998 by Anchor (first published July 15th 1992)
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Average rating 3.44  · 
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 ·  10,543 ratings  ·  730 reviews

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I have read many Ian McEwans, and I am always divided whether I like them or not. There is a witty analysis of contemporary life that appeals to me, put into occasionally brilliant prose. There are characters with interesting traits, and plots that usually have an abrupt twist in the end.

It uses to be an entertaining and quick reading experience between heavier, more thought-provoking and more linguistically challenging (and satisfying) classics or historical nonfiction.

But this was below par, e
Very disappointing, and yet not a dreadful book either (I've read five other McEwan's, all 4* or 5*).


The narrator is preparing the memoirs of his dying mother-in-law. He particularly wants details of a terrifying encounter with black dogs more than 40 years ago that changed the direction of her life, and therefore that of her husband and children.

Jeremy describes his own childhood, contrasting it with that of his wife, and tells of trips to the care home to talk to his mother-in-law,
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1970-present, prose
I don't understand how anyone could dislike this. It's basically a novel about ideologies and philosophies and how they apply to human beings, not about them in general, and McEwan's prose is so precise and fabulous that reading this whole thing, a book where barely anything actually happens except for near the end, was incredibly involving and fascinating. The characters feel like genuine people, there is no political condescension or sloganeering, just thoughtful human debate. I'm also constan ...more
Feb 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
I do not recommend this novel. It is trite, long and boring! 0 of 10 stars.
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Black Dogs was not as bad as I had expected, based on the reviews, but it does have a lot of problems. The novel tackles diverse themes, which intersect in interesting ways, though they arise in ad hoc rather than deliberate ways, and their treatment is not sufficiently meaningful. The encounter at the heart of Black Dogs is compelling, and raises some interesting ideas about human nature, and the tension between idealism and the reality of the darker sides of humanity. But the explanation is le ...more
My favorite Ian McEwan novel. It reads like memoir, has that kind of immediacy. Merits multiple re-readings.
Jul 11, 2007 rated it it was ok
I want to love Ian McEwan based on Zadie Smith’s (hilarious) interview with him in the Believer book of Writers on Writing. Maybe Black Dogs wasn’t the place to start. It was interesting to see his life work paralleled against Roth’s in the New York Review of Books (Al Alvarez, July 19 2007), suggesting that McEwan, like Roth, came of age as a writer at a moment when sexuality had to be busted out and that he, like Roth, was in the vanguard of this. I was expecting something more original in his ...more
Aug 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
I quite liked this -- like it much more, in fact, than the reviews of my GR friends led me to expect I would. It is richly packed with ideas and character into what is almost only a novella in length, and I found the ending to be particularly strong and well prepared by what had gone before. The book is not flawless, there are technical weaknesses early on -- that is, the craftsmanship sometimes shows -- and there are passages where the 'debate' becomes a bit ham-handed..., but the fundamental i ...more
Will Ansbacher
Apr 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: ebook, menace

A beautifully written novella but hollow in the centre, and leaving me dissatisfied at the end. It essentially revolves around a biography that the “author” Jeremy wants to write about his in-laws, June and Bernard. (To understand why they are so important to Jeremy, you need to read the introduction which is actually part of the novella itself and not, as I first thought, an autobiographical note on the real author’s life. Nice one, Ian).

June and Bernard get married just after WW2 but on their
Paul Bryant
Jan 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels
He tries to meditate upon profound themes in a short span of 174 pages and he ends up being tiresomely symbolic and a real windbag too :

"But the next day, and the day after, and on all the succeeding days, they never set foot in the metaphorical landscape of their future. The next day they turned back. They never descended the Gorge de Vis and walked by the mysterious raised canal that disappears into the rock, never crossed the river by the medieval bridge or climbed up to cross the Causse de B
Miriam Cihodariu
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: england
I read this book in its entirety, breathlessly, while on a 10 hour flight to US, the first I ever took. From the preface I couldn't bear to put it down.

This beginning of the book (the preface) is so convincing, so authentic, that it really seems like the author is speaking himself and devoid of any artifice. Only after a while you notice that it's not the author, but the main character who does the speaking. Still, this hooks you in and it makes everything so relatable that it's hard not to beco
Claire Fuller
I listened to this on a long drive last weekend. The writing was gorgeous, and some of the sections were interesting, but it didn't hang together as a novel. There was a section where a man goes for a walk and has dinner in a restaurant where he sees parents being horrible to a child, and gets into an altercation with the father. I loved it as a stand-alone piece, but didn't see what it was doing in the middle of this novel, unless I was missing something.
Also, the woman who has the incident wi
Friederike Knabe
Jul 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: uk-lit
"Ever since I lost mine in a road accident when I was eight, I have had my eye on other people's parents..." Jeremy, first person narrator in Ian McEwan's BLACK DOGS, finds what he is searching for in the parents of his wife Jenny, June and Bernard Tremaine. Placing the exploration of his in-laws' complicated relationship over five decades at the story's core around which the philosophical, spiritual and moral themes are continually gyrating, McEwan masterfully dissects the private sphere within ...more
The introduction to this book blew me away.

It sometimes so happens that I start reading a book without really thinking about it. For the first 5, 10 pages, I don't take it "seriously", if you will. I think it's sort of a professional flaw, after reading so many books, I know from the very first one or two pages, how many more I can afford to not attentively read. Usually, that happens when you don't have too many characters and so there are not many introductions to be made.

When I read somethi
In response to social utopia - communism - this superb novel develops through the journey and inner transformation of June - facing absolute evil, black dogs - quoting Gandhi:
"Be the change you want to see in the world".
Jul 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: ?????
Recommended to Mark by: No-one for definite so no-one I can actually blame
This was a really something and nothing book.

I read it a few months ago and normally even confused or disjointed novels look clearer to me from a distance. Rather like seeing a landscape with a fuller perspective and you can catch the beauty of the overall effect, the roll of the hills, the gathering of the woodland, the undulations of the streams which you miss if you are too close. It is only when you step out of the immediacy of the thing that you see its meaning, its purpose.

This hasn't hap
Bob Mustin
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I still find it odd that some (if not most) people will never re-read a book. I've just re-read this one because it was my first McEwan and I was so unfamiliar with his odd story structure that the essence of the book didn’t stay with me. But that was something like ten years ago. I like to think I’ve grown as both reader and writer in that time, so I knew the book would speak volumes to me now.

It does. But given that you might not have read it, a little something about the storyline.

English c
83rd book of 2020.

My McEwan ratings vary so much that he appears to be a yo-yo on my profile. Some I rate horribly low. If you couldn't care less about what I rated his other novels, skip to the following paragraph. Most recently, I gave his 2010 novel Solar a brutal 1 star (Mean review here). I also rated The Cement Garden, Amsterdam and The Innocent 2 stars. On Chesil Beach marked a high point for me, when it hit 3 stars, and I believed it would be the highest McEwan could score from me. I was
May 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Another McEwan book about people who love each other but somehow fail to stay together. A theme he does well.

Here the people who love each other begin their marriage as idealists, British communists with ambitions to change the world. The husband remains political, dedicated to various causes even after he abandons communism. The wife has an experience with black dogs on her honeymoon, which sends her on a quest for spiritual truth. The black dogs and other scenes of danger add an unexpected ele
This is far from the best novel by Ian McEwan. But even in a less novel, I think he still merits 4 stars. As allways the writing is clear, elegant and compelling.
The reason I felt it was less than some other books, was the overflow of themes and subjects. The book sometimes gives the impression of a story meandering on while touching difficult ideas, yet not taking the time to really dig into them.
Essentially it is about how people sometimes love eachother very much and yet do not (want to?)
This is the second book I've read by the author and I've come to the conclusion that I just don't connect wholeheartedly with the novels. I'm not sure why that is exactly.

Enough reviews already on offer but for this reader the synopsis sounded interesting enough to read the book. Some parts I did enjoy, the aftermath of the war on individuals and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. However I had difficulty investing in these characters, they seemed insipid and self interested.

I've come to the concl
Aric Cushing
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this. An incredibly satisfying quick read, accumulating in the powerful image (both symbolically and literally) for the narrator's mother-in-law at the end of the novel, which is the title of the book. I was also shocked to find a few people didn't like it. This book is part memoir, part fiction, and at the same time an examination of explosions of violence. ...more
I guess McEwan's books became for me something I totally like or I don't.
McEwan is truly is one of the most intelligent fiction writers of our times and one of my favorites, too. I am saying with a huge regret that this one really disappointed me. I was not moved by the story, attached to the characters. Don't know what went wrong here. Maybe if he'd separated the story into short stories, the book would interest me more. Drifting out from the storyline more than once and being interested in som
Apr 03, 2018 rated it liked it
There is some sexy writing here, and McEwan never lacks for making his characters feel both intelligent and real, but something tells me I’ll be forgetting about this one by next year.
Nov 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Black Dogs follows on smoothly from McEwan’s previous novel, The Innocent. At the end of the latter, the elderly hero takes a final look at the Berlin Wall. At the start of Black Dogs, the hero flies to Berlin to see it fall and everything that it stood for. He imagines he is seeing the break of a new dawn. Then there is a commotion. At Checkpoint Charlie a group of Neo-Nazi thugs set upon a Turkish immigrant, while well-heeled passers-by grin with approval. History’s grip isn’t about to slacken ...more
Oct 24, 2008 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
I only kept reading to find out what happens with the black dogs. The characters are boring. Everything felt pretentious. I didn’t even bother reading the last 15 or so pages, because everything had been fairly boring off and on throughout and the build up leads to nothing. I really like McEwan, honest!! I don’t think I’ve ever given one star to any book, and I would have never guess he would be the first, but here we are.
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
On the surface this is a story about a marital rift, that permeates through decades, as a son-in-law, who was orphaned himself as a child, becomes drawl to his wife’s parents and their story as almost pseudo-parents for himself, despite the fact that their own children have essentially divorced themselves from both of them. Their rift, and the story behind it, becomes an analogy of sorts for the World War and an entire generation left in its wake.
Adrian Buck
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The Innocent marked the end of my first period of reading everything McEwan wrote. It was the murder and mutilation that put me off. The discovery of horror in the mundane may have been essential to his short stories, but it just didn't seem to work in his longer fiction.
I came back to him with Atonement, having read the Dunkirk scene in Granta: God, his prose was good! And in these later novels, he has solved the problem, his plots are horrific only when required.
Recently, I've been filling
Jul 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-recently
While Ian McEwan continues to be one of my favorite authors, his book 'Black Dogs' was not my favorite book of his.

The title apparently comes from the name that Winston Churchill bestowed on his depressions. As used in this book it actually seemed to signify something more evil and irrational, "civilization's worst moods." McEwan applied this metaphor into a meditation on Europe's past and future.
McEwan used a fictional family (Bernard and June Tremaine) to demonstrate the impact time past has
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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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“It is photography itself that creates the illusion of innocence. Its ironies of frozen narrative lend to its subjects an apparent unawareness that they will change or die. It is the future they are innocent of. Fifty years on we look at them with the godly knowledge of how they turne dout after all - who they married, the date of their death - with no thought for who will one day be holding photographs of us.” 105 likes
“Bernard was to remember this moment for the rest of his life. As they drank from their water bottles he was struck by the recently concluded war not as a historical, geopolitical fact but as a multiplicity, a near-infinity of private sorrows, as a boundless grief minutely subdivided without diminishment among individuals who covered the continent like dust, like spores whose separate identities would remain unknown, and whose totality showed more sadness than anyone could ever begin to comprehend; a weight borne in silence by hundreds of thousands, millions, like the woman in black for a husband and two brothers, each grief a particular, intricate, keening love story that might have been otherwise. It seemed as though he had never thought about the war before, not about its cost. He had been so busy with the details of his work, of doing it well, and his widest view had been of war aims, of winning, of statistical deaths, statistical destruction, and of post-war reconstruction. For the first time he sensed the scale of the catastrophe in terms of feeling; all those unique and solitary deaths, all that consequent sorrow, unique and solitary too, which had no place in conferences, headlines, history, and which had quietly retired to houses, kitchens, unshared beds, and anguished memories. This came upon Bernard by a pine tree in the Languedoc in 1946 not as an observation he could share with June but as a deep apprehension, a recognition of a truth that dismayed him into silence and, later, a question: what possible good could come of a Europe covered in this dust, these spores, when forgetting would be inhuman and dangerous, and remembering a constant torture?” 7 likes
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