Three cheers for literary imbroglios

Ian McEwan pulls a Kaavya Viswanathan?


The Times reports today that author Ian McEwan is under scrutiny for passages in his bestselling Atonement that bear striking similarity to those from a memoir by romance novelist Lucilla Andrews, who died last month from cancer. The lines in question regard medical procedures -- check out McEwan’s take: “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.” And now here’s Andrews’s: “Our ‘nursing’ seldom involved more than dabbing gentian violet on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on cuts and scratches, lead lotion on bruises and sprains.”


Unlike this summer’s lit scandal involving Harvard freshman Kaavya Viswanathan, Opal Mehta, huge chunks of plagiarized young-adult copy, and a lost two-book deal for half a million bucks, this dust-up seems more apt to disappear. Everyone involved (publishers, agents, McEwan himself) is using words like “discourtesy” to describe the situation, rather than blatant, all-out plagiarism.


This isn’t the first time McEwan’s been accused of pilfering other people’s work, though. Critics suggested similarities between the plot of McEwan’s first novel, The Cement Garden, and Julian Gloag’s Our Mother’s House.


The Times calls the timing “tantalizing” as it coincides with the filming of Atonement, starring Kiera Knightley.

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