Monday, December 04, 2006

Apparently there's a bit of a broohaha in England over accusations that Ian McEwan lifted a passage from the memoir of a late British romance novelist for his novel "Atonement". The writer in question, Lucilla Andrews, was a nurse in a London hospital during World War II, as was the main character of McEwan's book.

This New York Times article notes the similarities between passages in both works:

Two British newspapers — The Mail on Sunday and The Times of London — have published excerpts that show close similarities between passages in “Atonement” and Ms. Andrews’s memoir. Mr. McEwan, for instance, wrote: “In the way of medical treatments, she had already dabbed gentian violet on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on a cut and painted lead lotion on a bruise.” Ms. Andrews’s book has the lines: “Our ‘nursing’ seldom involved more than dabbing gentian violent on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on cuts and scratches, lead lotion on bruises and sprains.”

(The New York Times ran another article about the controversy on Sunday.)

McEwan has previously acknowledged using Andrews' memoir as a source, and even mentioned it in the author's note of "Atonement." I don't think I would call what he did plagiarism, given that Andrews' book was nonfiction, and McEwan was using it to lend authenticity to his portrayal of a wartime hospital. A memoir is, however, a literary work, and McEwan probably should have taken more trouble to rework the description in question.

By the way, if you haven't read it, I highly recommend "Atonement," which is a haunting, emotionally wrenching novel. It's the only McEwan I've read, but I definitely plan to read more.

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