McEwan, in 'Black Dogs', treads lightly but knowledgeably between the themes of history, perception, religion, transgression and change. Over a story that spans three generations and multiple narratives, McEwan explores an incident involving two black dogs (not, in actual fact, a representation of Churchill's black dog, depression) and how the recollection of this incident informs everything which comes before, after and with it.
Writing on the eponymous dogs, McEwan notes 'they emanated meaning'. By heck, they do. They have a specific physical and tangible rationale in the novel, but come be symbolic of evil; their appearance has a resounding echoic effect on all generations that follow. In true McEwan form, he manages to map this plot onto that of the philosophy, ethics and politics of wartime Europe, in a novel that takes us from Britain to France to Poland to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
As is often a criticism of McEwan, the plot is not thrilling, but the intrigue as to the black dogs and the connection between disparate eras and narratives keeps us moving forward. McEwan has his critics, but I am not one of them. To create novels in which themes, motifs and meanings span so many topics, ideas and subjects requires great, great skill. As if it were nothing, McEwan walks between war-torn Europe to a single marriage deftly and with the requisite skills to pull off such a feat. With 'Black Dogs', he has added another classic to his repertoire.