"I did not kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way.", said Jack opening the novel.
The story is set in England at the end of 1970 and it is narrated by Jack who is fifteen years old; he is the eldest son of a family of four children: Tom, five or six, Sue, twelve and Julie sixteen or seventeen.
They live apart from the society in their own world and No one ever came to visit them. Neither their mother nor their father had any real friends outside the family.
Their father was hostile and selfish, while their mother was a quiet sort of person and she loved her children very much. She was very protective towards them.
When their father died, the family starts a slow process of decomposition; at the same time as the four children wonder how ill their mother was.
No doctors came to see her. 'I've seen enough doctors and I've had enough tests to last me a lifetime.' she said.
And from this moment, her bedroom becomes the centre of the house. They are there, talking among themselves or listening to her radio, while she dozed.
When the woman dies, the children remain completely alone and they lose sense of time.
Moreover they can't distinguish anymore what it right and what it is wrong.
Each of them tries to find different strategies to live, but none of them is able to find the right one: Julie can run like the wind, but she often appears deep in thought.
She is shy, but she has the quiet strength and detachment, and lives in the separate world of those who are, and secretly know they are, exceptionally beautiful.
Julie goes out with her new boy friend Derek and she wears clothes Jack had never seen before.
Derek breaks the balance between Julie and Jack and among the whole family.
Jack is very jealous of his sister and from his jealousy, we understand they have an incestuous relationship, that, however, isn't malicious.
So Jack abandons all the rituals of personal hygiene, because of his spots so thoroughly established across his face.
If people really likes him, he argues, they will take him as he was.
He has no close friends at school.
He was the only one with nothing to do but masturbating.
Tom plays outside all day and quite often he plays in the street in Sue's skirt.
He said he was tired of being a boy and he wants to be a girl.
Sue stays in her room reading books and writing in her notebook: she likes reading and she doesn't feel like doing anything else.
But these behaviors are common compared with what follows.
"Nor could I think whether what we had done was an ordinary thing to do, understandable even if it had been a mistake, or something so strange that if it was ever found out it would be the headline of every newspaper in the country... every thought I had dissolved into nothing." Jack thought, while Julie pulled the curtains closed and came and sat down beside Sue and took her other hand. They sat like this, three in a row on the edge of the bed. For a long time no one spoke. Then they seemed to wake up and began to talk in
whispers about Mum. They talked about her illness and what it was like when they carried her down the stairs, and when Tom tried to get in the bed with her. Jack reminded
them of the day of the pillow fight when they were left in the house together. Sue and Julie had completely forgotten it.
They remembered a holiday in the country before Tom was born and they discussed what Mum would have thought of Derek. They agreed she would have sent him packing.
They were not sad, they were excited and awed.
They talked about the birthday party at Mum's bedside, and Julie's handstand. They made her do it again.
It was the sound of two or three cars pulling up outside, the slam of doors and the hurried footsteps of several people coming up our front path that woke Tom. 'There!' she said, 'wasn't that a lovely sleep.'
A very unsettling tale, but sometimes it is useful to read out of one's comfort zone. I really thought I could feel that smell...
To me, this is Ian McEwan's great masterpiece. I read this book first in its Italian translation and secondly in the original version. One of not so many times in which the original does not delude the translation, indeed. The copy I own is a 1978 first edition gift, by an Italian colleague of mine whom I met in Southampton, Barbara. A nice girl who lives in Pesaro, as far as I think. Barbara, if you read this: thanks a lot again and let me know where you live today!...Continua