Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of fourteen previous books, including the novels Solar; On Chesil Beach; Saturday; Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the W. H. Smith Literary Award; The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize; and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award. He has also authored the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He lives in England.
1. The narrator, Jeremy, sets himself up in the preface as the pole opposite June and Bernard. He says that they have too much belief and he has too little. By the end of the novel, does Jeremy make a choice? Does he believe in something?
2. Whose story is this? June and Bernard's? Or Jeremy's?
3. Discuss the author's decision to use the mock memoir form to tell this story.
4. In Black Dogs the author presents the conflict between emotion and rationality--the women are on one side, the men on another. Is this a gender divide?
5. June and Bernard loved each other, but couldn't live a life together. June admits this and ponders how millions of people can be expected to get along when two people can't. Does this novel ultimately present a bleak view of life?
6. Bernard accuses June of sacrificing him and their children for a final, personal end. Do you agree that she did?
7. June's confrontation with the black dogs is close to ten pages long (pages 119-127). Look at it closely and talk about how the author builds suspense and adds to the ominous tone of something important about to happen.
8. In the author's novels, moments of clarity, of certainty, or of important questions being asked or answered often take place in nature. Why do you think McEwan makes this choice?
9. Would Bernard and June have been able to continue to live together as a married couple if Bernard hadn't been busy examining a caterpillar during her confrontation with the black dogs?
10. Bernard feels the weight of the sadness in Europe late in the novel when he finally sees the war "not as a historical, geopolitical fact but as a multiplicity, a near infinity of private sorrows, as a boundless grief minutely subdivided without diminishment among individuals who covered the continent like dust" (page 140). How does this relate to the Lao-tzu quotation earlier in the novel (page 13)?
11. Can a person be happy when evil exists in the world? Is this novel a warning to be on guard?
12. Talk about the title of this and any other novels you have read by Ian McEwan. In what ways are they both a question and an answer?