Black Dogs

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Black Dogs
First edition cover
AuthorIan McEwan
Cover artistDavid Moores[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherJonathan Cape
Publication date
1 July 1992
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages178 pages
LC ClassPR6063.C4 B5 1992b

Black Dogs is a 1992 novel by the British author Ian McEwan. It concerns the aftermath of the Nazi era in Europe, and how the fall of the Berlin Wall in the late 1980s affected those who once saw Communism as a way forward for society. The main characters travel to France, where they encounter disturbing residues of Nazism still at large in the French countryside. Critical reception was polarized.


Black Dogs divided critics.[2] M. John Harrison of The Times Literary Supplement lauded the book as "compassionate without resorting to sentimentality, clever without losing its honesty, an undisguised novel of ideas which is also Ian McEwan's most human work." Poet Craig Raine billed it as "a novel whose formal perfection was so subtle that most critics failed to notice."[2] An anonymous reviewer in The Observer declared Black Dogs to be McEwan's best book yet, as did Andrew Billen. In Entertainment Weekly, writer Gary Giddens said, "McEwan's narratives are small and focused, but resonate far into the night."[3]

A writer for Kirkus Reviews stated, "McEwan explores the personal consequences of political ideas in this remarkably precise little novel. His lapidary prose neatly disguises his search for transcendence.”[4] A reviewer for Publishers Weekly argued that for some the pivotal scene may be unconvincing because McEwan "is rather too didactic in the exposition of his theme," so one may expect too much from the novel's dramatic main event". However, the reviewer also said the work remains "impressive; McEwan's meticulous prose, his shaping of his material to create suspense, and his adept use of specific settings [...] produce a haunting fable about the fragility of civilization, always threatened by the cruelty latent in humankind.”[5]

In the London Review of Books, Graham Coster criticized certain climactic encounters for the novel's narrator as areas where "McEwan’s metaphysical inquiry shrinks to picturesque conundrums and a rather smug irony, a knowing wink of, You can’t rule it out, can you?" Coster also complained that the final section's events unfolding like they are an authoritative account is inconsistent with the "relativistic collage of verdicts over the preceding pages", and that "we’d pieced [enough] together already for the revelation to seem worth the wait." Coster wrote, however, that the author "shares Forster's sensitivity to landscape as a numinous protagonist [...] McEwan’s prose evokes [the menacing environment where June is attacked] with tender precision.” Coster also praised June's story as plausible and imaginative, and described the philosophical conflict between Bernard and June as a source of considerable pathos.[6]

In The New York Times, critic Michiko Kakutani stated that "McEwan dexterously opens out his story onto a political and philosophical level" but skates briskly over these larger implications of the story after doing so. Kakutani said that the reader is ultimately “intrigued and provoked but also vaguely undernourished", describing the novel as "absorbing yet vexing”.[7][8] Amanda Craig wrote in the Literary Review that while Black Dogs had potential to be "a pleasing essay on the ambiguous nature of memory and desire, or the real and the ideal," it ultimately "gets lost in portentous [...] polemic." James Saynor of The Observer derided the book as "wan and fractured" and the characterization as "schematic".[9]

Conversely, Zadie Smith in 2005 dubbed Black Dogs a "brilliant, flinty little novel, bursting with big ideas".[10] The following year, Roger Boylan wrote that the novel is "the most thought-provoking" of McEwan's books and that it deserved the Booker Prize more than Amsterdam (1998).[11] Academic Bob Corbett lauded the novel in 2016 as "a disturbing, challenging, chilling and gripping read. [...] It touches me in a very personal manner."[12] In 2018, Tina Jordan and Susan Ellingwood of The New York Times listed it as one of McEwan's six "noteworthy" works.[13]


  1. ^ Modern first editions - a set on Flickr
  2. ^ a b Malcolm 2002, p. 132–133.
  3. ^ Gary Giddens, "Black Dogs," Entertainment Weekly, 16 October 1992.
  4. ^ BLACK DOGS by Ian McEwan | Kirkus Reviews.
  5. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Black Dogs by Ian McEwan". Retrieved 2020-01-16.
  6. ^ Coster, Graham (1992-06-25). "Evils and Novels · LRB 25 June 1992". London Review of Books. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
  7. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (1992-11-03). "'Black Dogs'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
  8. ^ Michiko Kakutani, "How a Family Story Describes Europe," New York Times, 3 November 1992
  9. ^ Malcolm 2002, p. 134.
  10. ^ Smith, Zadie (2005-08-01). "An Interview with Ian McEwan". Believer Magazine. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
  11. ^ Boylan, Roger (2006-01-09). "Ian McEwan's Family Values". Boston Review. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
  12. ^ Corbett, Bob (August 2016). "Book review -- BLACK DOGS by Ian McEwan". Retrieved 2020-01-16.
  13. ^ Jordan, Tina; Ellingwood, Susan (2018-05-17). "6 Noteworthy Works by Ian McEwan". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-16.

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