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Gray, S. (2018). Locating the ‘Usefully Problematic’ in a Novel and a Memoir by Ian McEwan. Brit. J. Psychother., 34(1):147-158.

(2018). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 34(1):147-158

Locating the ‘Usefully Problematic’ in a Novel and a Memoir by Ian McEwan

Suzanne Gray

This article looks at aspects of a novel and a memoir, written over the same period in 2001, by author Ian McEwan. In ‘Mother tongue’, his memoir, McEwan reflects on his insular upbringing on various military bases abroad. His father, a soldier, was a periodic presence whose volatile moods interrupted the home-life otherwise exclusively spent with his mother, to whom he was strongly attached. Meanwhile McEwan's novel, Atonement, employs the perspective of an adolescent girl, antagonistic to the link forming in her sister's mind towards someone else. I look at how in the novel this situation leads to a denial of oedipal hierarchy, and ultimately to what Chasseguet-Smirgel terms ‘pseudocreative’ solutions. Atonement, however, lays stress on the integrating effect of the creative process itself. In writing the novel in conjunction with the memoir, particularly where one interrupted the other, I speculate that McEwan embarked on a similar process, in which the initial disruption, delivered a gain in perspective, which came to promote further psychic and creative development. I explore this from the Kleinian viewpoint of the here and now, and contrast this with that of Chasseguet-Smirgel, and with the more recursive temporality found within the French tradition.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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