Paul Giles reviews 'Machines Like Me' by Ian McEwan

Paul Giles reviews 'Machines Like Me' by Ian McEwan

Machines Like Me

by Ian McEwan

Jonathan Cape, $32.99 pb, 320 pp, 9781787331679

Ian McEwan’s new novel imagines an alternative history of England in the 1980s, one in which Argentina won the Falklands War and Margaret Thatcher was subsequently trounced at the polls. It also projects an alternative narrative of scientific progress, one in which the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing did not die in 1954, victimised because of his homosexuality, but instead lived on into a ‘glorious patrician present’ to become the ‘presiding genius of the digital age’. Digital communication is presented here as having become ‘a daily chore’ by the early 1970s, with these characters in 1982 communicating regularly by email. The novel’s plot turns on Turing’s invention of robotic prototypes, known as Adam and Eve, one of which ends up as the property of the novel’s first-person narrator, Charlie. Adam’s speed and dexterity in cognitive processing makes a fortune for Charlie on the Asian currency markets, but Adam eventually asserts his independence, becomes Charlie’s love rival and has to be eliminated.

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Published in May 2019, no. 411

Paul Giles

Paul Giles is Challis Professor of English at the University of Sydney. His most recent book is Backgazing: Reverse time in modernist culture (OUP, 2019).

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