What I thought:
I was unsure about buying this book initially, because Ian McEwan can be macabre in his storytelling, but once I settled down to read it, I loved it! McEwan has the ability to combine complex issues, such as the mess we create, lies we tell and the complexity of human interaction, while making it all read like light entertainment. Machines Like Me reminds us that nothing is more human than moral inconsistency.
“I think the A and E’s were ill-equipped to understand human decision making, the way our principals are warped in the force field of our emotions, our peculiar biases, our self-delusions and all the other well-chartered defects of our cognition. Soon these Adams and Eves were in despair. They couldn’t understand us, because we couldn’t understand ourselves Their learning programs couldn’t accommodate us. If we didn’t know our own minds, how could we design theirs and expect them to be happy alongside us?”
So, dear reader, if you are looking for a thought-provoking yet easy read, this novel is a must-have. You will not be disappointed. McEwan’s research is thorough, his narrative perfect, and his characters complex. He effortlessly weaves subplots into the main plot, and vice versa. I read this book slowly, enjoying and savoring every minute. McEwan makes storytelling seem so easy, but (as we all know) he is a master of the pen and a mean feat to compete with.
For a summary of the book, read on…
The novel is set in an alternative London, circa ‘1982’, against the backdrop of poll tax riots and voting to leave the EU. Driverless cars are common, mobile phones are sophisticated, and Tony Benn is challenging the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher’s, leadership. Alan Turing, the inventor of AI, is still alive. The protagonist, Charlie, lives in a flat in Clapham South and his girlfriend, Miranda, lives upstairs. It transpires that Miranda is trying to adopt a little boy called Mark. Charlie, who has a flakey work history and barely makes a living, inherits a sizeable inheritance and decides to spend all the money (£86,000) on an AI machine called ‘Adam’; the female AI version, ‘Eve’, is already sold out. Adam can learn, breathe, make moral judgments, and he is able to make complex character and business analyses. He is a good-looking and well-dressed robot, and Charlie feels threatened by this. As the story unfolds, a love triangle arises when Adam falls in love with Miranda.
As the story progresses, Charlie allows Adam to follow, analyze and invest in the stock market on his behalf. Due to Adam’s strong analytical skills, Charlie starts to make sizeable returns on his minimal investments. So much so that, towards the end of the book, Charlie is on the verge of purchasing a substantial house in Notting Hill Gate.
However, in true McEwan style, a deeper and more sinister sub-plot lies beneath the already murky surface waters. Miranda confesses a deep secret, revealing that she once orchestrated an astounding revenge campaign against a man called Gorring, leading to his eventual conviction for rape. Having been released from jail on probation, it transpires that Gorring is planning a revenge attack on Miranda. Taking the initiative, Charlie, Miranda, and Adam go to confront Gorring about what he did to Miranda’s best friend (the rape victim), and what Miranda did to him afterwards. The resulting encounters and confessions are recorded by Adam, including written and verbal confessions.
After some deliberation, Adam (having adopted a higher ethical standard than the humans he lives alongside) tries to explain his findings (from the evidence he has collected) to the humans. Adam’s analysis implies that Gorring should be returned to jail, Miranda should face a criminal investigation, and little Mark should not be adopted by Miranda. As a robot, Adam definitely does not have fuzzy moral judgement; but, before Adam can finish his analysis, Charlie brings a hammer down his head, trying to crush it and erase his memory – but of course, Adam anticipates this…