Likely Stories: Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

Jan 2, 2020

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

One of my most often reviewed authors is Ian McEwan.  I always learn a few things and add to my vocabulary while thoroughly enjoying his work.  His latest novel is Machines Like Me.  I pondered whether he likes machines or the machines like him.  Answering that conundrum will require a serious exploration of the human mind.



Ian writes, “It was religious yearning granted hope, it was the holy grail of science.  Our ambitions ran high and low—for a creation my myth made real, for a monstrous act of self-love.  As soon as it was feasible, we had no choice but to follow our desires and hang the consequences.  In loftiest terms, we aimed to escape our immortality, […] More practically, we intended to devise an improved, more modern version of ourselves and exult in the joy of invention, the thrill of mastery.  In the autumn of the twentieth century, it came about at last, the first steps towards the fulfilment of an ancient dream, the beginning of the long lesson we would teach ourselves that however complicated we were, however faulty and difficult to describe in even our simplest actions of being, we would be imitated and bettered” (1).  A slight taste of the mind of McEwan.

Charlie lived the life of a thirty-three-year-old man.  He lived alone, except for a woman he desired.  Her name was Miranda, and she lived on the second floor of their building.  He listened to her walking about, answering the phone, rising in the morning, and turning in at night.  She also seemed to be drawing herself towards Charlie, and he began laying siege to her more than attractive face and body.  Ian continues, “When I entered the kitchen in the morning, later than usual.  Adam’s eyes were open. 

They were pale blue, flecked with miniscule vertical rods of black.  […]  But his blink mechanism had not yet kicked in.  […] When I felt for the pulse in his wrist, I found nothing—a heartbeat without a pulse” (18).  Intrigued yet? 

As is his wont, McEwan spreads lots of interesting history, science, religion, physics, astronomy, and philosophy to name a few of the ideas Charlie devoured.  “With his neat muscular bulge of chest and arms, he could have passed for a personal trained from the local gym” (73).  That item pulls an alarm to my mind.

Less than a hundred pages later, Ian writes, “Miranda went to the stove and prepared coffee.  While her back was still turned she said gaily, ‘Charlie.  You’re being ridiculous.’ // ‘Am I?’  I thought she was about to touch my shoulder and I tensed,’” (99).

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan is a novel with lots of torque and banter.  I am delighted to recommend another great novel by a multi-prize-winning writer.  Join the serious fun, the mystery, and spend some wonderful movement of the human mind.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!