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The dogs of Europe
on 5 October 2012
"In the Nightmare of the dark/All the dogs of Europe bark".(W.H.Auden). The underlying philosophical idea of this book is the conflict between the rational and religious views of life, as personified in the characters of the parents-in-law of the narrator, irrevocably in love but totally unable to live in harmony with each other's world view or even agree on the details of their shared memories. The post-war incident in France with the black dogs is the trigger for June's epiphany; her confrontation with evil paradoxically causing her to experience in the moment a spiritual enlightenment, separating her for ever from the naive Communist view she had shared with her husband Bernard. He is unable to comprehend or share her insights and this leads to their lifelong separation.
I seemed to detect the shadow of Freud's "Wolf Man" case history in the author's concept of the black dogs, but anyway I think they are appropriate symbols for the assault on rational thinking engendered by the evils unleashed in World War 2.
As one would expect from McEwan, the book is fluently written and a compulsive read. It engages a serious subject without a trace of pretentiousness. It has the effect of really good writing: it lingers in the mind long after putting it down.