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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.
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on 14 July 2011
I love the way Ian McEwan splits people. He is one of my favourite writers but at times I could strangle him. I was bored to tears by the drawn-out and completely unbelievable 'Saturday' and disgusted by 'The Comfort of Strangers' (as well as some of his early short stories), but novels like 'Enduring Love', 'Atonement' and 'Black Dogs' make up for things in a big way.

Black Dogs is intense, fascinating and exciting. The characters are believable, intriguing and, as in a lot of McEwan novels, fairly loathsome! I've lent this book to some of my friends and it has split them too - some said they couldn't get into it at all whereas others were gripped from the first page, as I was. I'm sure Ian McEwan likes the split he generates - buying one of his books is like gambling, but I'm very glad I gambled on this one. I remember a shiver running down my spine the day after i finished it - when I walked past a bookies that had a big photo of two black dogs in the window. Gamble and read this - and if you don't like it, you'll probably love some of his other stuff...
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on 10 October 2008
One of his great literary triumphs, Ian McEwan's "Black Dogs" is an engrossing reflection on the thrills of violence and the redemptive power of love, set largely amidst the collapse of the Berlin Wall and a mesmerizing look back at a memorable French summer one year after the end of World War II. McEwan's novel is a most vivid fictional exploration of a marriage torn apart by the diverging political beliefs of husband and wife, Bernard and June Tremaine, as seen by their young son-in-law Jeremy. By mere happenstance Jeremy stumbles upon the rise and fall of the Tremaine's marriage, when he is asked by June to write her memoirs, shortly before her death. A few years later he hears a compelling, quite different, account of that marriage from Bernard himself, as both take a last-minute journey to a jubilant Berlin, its citizenry transfixed by the Berlin Wall's collapse. Always a keen observer of the human condition, McEwan's sparse, descriptive, and quite lyrical, prose presents a compelling portrait of Jeremy, Bernard and June, closing, most memorably, during the bright dawn of the Tremaine's marriage. An idyllic French summer marred by an unexpectedly dark reminder of the recently concluded war's demonic fury.
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on 11 July 2001
This is less of a gripping page turner than some of McEwan's later books, and may suffer in comparison as a result. However, it rewards on other levels. As always in McEwan the characterisation is totally convincing, but it is the book's engagement with history that really compels. McEwan takes in war, revolution and the nature of evil, and the image of the black dogs haunted my imagination as it did the characters in the book. The scenes in Berlin as the wall comes down were also memorable, but more than anything I enjoyed this book because it made me think, and because it showed that the author himself had really grappled with the themes of the book without ever losing sight of the every day reality of being human.
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on 11 May 1999
Typically, as with much of McEwan's work we don't find out the true base of the story till right at the end.
Black Dogs revolves around the story of a honeymooning couple in France and their confrontation with two Black Dogs.
The book starts with the perspective in the first person, describing the narrators childhood and lack of family, then moves to switching between third and first person to describe the story of this couple and their subsequent lives after the encounter.
No Doubt a good plot and and an engrossing read the book will nevertheless dissapoint many McEwan fans because it does not reach the flow of 'Amsterdam' or 'Enduring Love'.
Worth reading but not wholly enjoyable
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on 17 September 2001
Black Dogs was the 7th Ian McEwan book I have read - all of the others I have either loved or really liked. Enduring Love and Amsterdam are two of my favourite all-time novels. Black Dogs is the only one of McEwan's novels I did not enjoy and actually disliked. Not only is it a laborious read, with nothing to keep the story moving along, but the symbolism is absurdly obvious and the events implausible.
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on 20 April 2016
I'm not sure whether I liked this book or not. It is about a man and his relationship with his in-laws, he seems particularly obsessed with his mother-in-law against his wife's wishes and would like to write her biography.
The story wanders from the interesting to the deadly dull. The in-laws trek through the French countryside is far too long, the fall of the Berlin wall interesting especially if you were around at the time.
And the Black Dogs? I presumed that the incident with the dogs brought about an instantaneous change of life, a change in the way of thinking. But no, several weeks later the mother-in-law starts to believe that the dogs were an embodiment of evil, which they were in a way. The dogs had belonged to the Gestapo and had been trained to intimidate people.
I'm still not sure about this book, some parts flowed whilst in other pages I plodded on wanting only to reach the next good bit or the end of the book, whichever came sooner.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 October 2011
'Black Dogs' is one of the group of books that McEwan published between 1987 and 1997. Appearing in 1992, it represents the period in which the author had ceased to be a novelty - his first collection of short stories had appeared in 1975 - but had not yet ascended to the status of major British writer, a process that seems to have begun with his Booker win in 1998.

This short novel gives a good idea of McEwan's strengths and weaknesses at that time. The prose is incisive and controlled without ever rising to any great height. The story is told from a variety of perspectives, held in balance by a narrator who has to piece together the truth about events in the past from conflicting accounts, battling all the while against the power of his own past and his personal investment in the lives of those to whom he bears witness.

McEwan seems to have had something very large in view here: a meditation on the reality and enduring power of evil, and on the inadequacy of well-intentioned rationalism alone to defend against it. Both the struggle against European fascism and the later struggle against Stalinist communism are referenced through the personal histories of the characters. For me, at least, this doesn't really work; there is something too comfortable about the underlying worldview for the reader to feel that very much is at stake.

Worth reading, nonetheless, for McEwan's prose, which never falls below a certain level of excellence.
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on 18 February 2013
The genius strikes again! yes, it is different to other McEwans, but will entrance in a slightly different way. More lyrical and slower paced than many of his novels
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on 9 August 2015
Cover 3/5 The book I read had one dog on the cover ... an edition from the 1990s


I was drawn into the book with the opening page and could not stop turning the pages. The structuring of the story as usual from Ian McEwan interesting. Characters well drawn. My preconception was a book about depression ... not really so in the end.

I may well read again

Alexander of the Allrighters and Ywnwab!
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