McEwan on Hiking and Human Nature

Living in a car culture, it’s easy to underestimate the power of a good walk. But for Ian McEwan, a stroll may be the answer to most of life’s—or at least literature’s—problems. In a New Yorker profile, Britian’s national author ambles through the British countryside, discussing his passion for walking (he’s an old romantic) and suspenseful plots. In his novels, McEwan is known for his narrative crescendo. Martin Amis once said that “Ian’s terribly good at stressed states,” which he draws out into scenes of almost painful proportion. So if he’s ever in a bind with his writing, McEwan goes out for a walk. He’s fleshed out many of his narrative twists this way -- Robbie’s fate at Dunkirk in Atonement, for example, occurred to McEwan while on a hike in Andalusia. He chose climate change as the subject of his new book while on an icy hiking trip on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. “On the boat, we were asked to store outer clothing – heavy shoes, splash suits, goggles, balaclavas, gloves – in a boot room,” McEwan tells the New Yorker, “I spent seven years in boarding school, and I took one look and said, ‘I’m putting my stuff under my bead.’ Within three days, the boot room was chaos. People were losing their stuff, stealing things. Meanwhile, we’d been sitting inside our little ark, with the whole of the planet’s population below us, talking about how we were going to save the world. These were motivated, decent, kind people. I thought, Ah. The interesting thing here is human nature. Global warming suddenly wasn’t an abstract issue, because humans had to solve it—untrustworthy, venal, sweet, lovely humans.”