The figurative language of Ian McEwan

Reading time: About 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about similes and metaphors from Ian McEwan,

I’m generally a big fan of the English novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan and have written about him many times before.

I didn’t like his latest book Lessons, so much — I think because I found the plot a bit plodding and lacklustre. (Despite, spoiler alert, the sex abuse scandal at the centre of the story.) Still, it’s obvious that Ian McEwan knows how to write. And this book contained many fine examples of figurative language. Here are my favourites:

  • Her displeasure came as a quick exhalation through her nostrils, a reverse sniff he had heard before
  • So he sat [at the piano], lifted his head to the sullen column of treble clefs where they hung on the page and he set off again, even more unsteadily than before.
  • Now [a spider] paused, rocking in place on legs as fine as hairs, swaying as though to a hidden melody.
  • Above all he was free of the unspoken family problems, which had a power over him as pervasive and mysterious as gravity.
  • The smell of sweat was like raw onion.
  • Even the Telegraph carried photographs of smiling girls in the news with bouffant hair and eyelashes as thick and dark as prison bars.
  • He was a fraction behind her on the opening grand declaration, so that the piano, a Steinway, sounded like a barroom honkey-tonk.
  • These grown-up children were at that hinge of life when parents must begin to shrink and fold.
  • But she had aged and shrunk, she couldn’t sleep, the skin under her eyes showed deep wrinkles, like a walnut.
  • His little car, nimbler and more spacious than he expected, was a thought-bubble pushing north through a country he no longer quite knew or understood.
  • He was sure [the pain] was his ribs, a piece of bone somewhere poking into muscle tissue like a cocktail stick through an anchovy.
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