The new novel from the master storyteller is his best in years. Brilliantly McEwan, richly entertaining, a moving love story and a mystery--yet for all its gripping plotline one of the most morally layered novels written for our times, as it carries us into a provocatively real alternative history and the profound challenges of Artificial Intelligence.
Set in 1980s London, the story revolves around Charlie: young and reckless, and in love with his upstairs neighbour, the enchanting Miranda whose hidden, murky past hangs between them. He has spent his inheritance on the acquisition of one of twenty-five highly developed new robotic humans--named Adam or Eve, each one beautiful, strong and clever--developed by Alan Turing after his success on the legendary WW2 Enigma codebreaking machine. As London is consumed by the huge protests over England and Argentina's Falklands War and Margaret Thatcher's jingoistic ambitions, Charlie courts Miranda, and his Adam finds himself, inevitably, central to their affair.
Great novelist that he is, McEwan pulls us into the question of what it means to love, what makes us human in our fast-changing times, what might follow if a machine understands too well the human heart, and how precarious a construct is the world we live in and think we know.
McEwan's thought-provoking novel (after Nutshell) is about the increasingly fraught relationship between a man, a woman, and a synthetic human. Opening in an alternate 1982 London in which technology is not dissimilar from today's (characters text and send emails), 32-year-old Charlie spends 86,000 of his inheritance on the "first truly viable manufactured human with plausible intelligence and looks," who can pass for human unless closely inspected. His name is Adam (there are 12 Adams and 13 Eves total; the Eves sell out first), and Charlie designs Adam's personality along with his neighbor and girlfriend Miranda. Soon, Adam informs Charlie that he "should be careful of trusting her completely," and quickly falls in love with her, thus inextricably binding their fates together. The novel's highlight is Adam, a consistently surprising character who quickly disables his own kill switch and composes an endless stream of haiku dedicated to Miranda because, as he states, "the lapidary haiku, the still, clear perception and celebration of things as they are, will be the only necessary form" as misunderstanding is eradicated in the future. The novel loses steam when Adam's not the focus: much page space is devoted to a thread about an orphan boy, as well as Charlie's thoughts and feelings about Miranda. Though the reader may wish for a tighter story, this is nonetheless an intriguing novel about humans, machines, and what constitutes a self.