Complete Surrender, by Dave Sharp

Another child in his time

Like those cowboy films that only kick into gear when the tall, lantern-jawed stranger strides retributively towards the dangling double doors of the saloon, so Complete Surrender has to wait until the 15th of 23 chapters for anything momentous to happen. This is not to deny the human interest of Dave Sharp's saunter through his Thames Valley childhood, and a married life that began as the Swinging Sixties burst into bloom. But it is not until the author wanders into an Oxfordshire wine bar in early 2002 to meet his long-lost brother, Ian McEwan, that a succession of money shots start to snap reliably into place.

The parentage of the brothers McEwan, confirmed to both by a Salvation Army lieutenant shortly before the meeting, crashed into the newspapers last year. Younger sibling Ian (born 1948) had always assumed he was the solitary fruit of his mother's second marriage to an army sergeant-major, David McEwan, after her first husband, Ernest Wort, died in action in the Second World War. In fact there was another son, born out of wedlock in 1942, while Wort was away on military service, his birth concealed from his putative father and wiped from the family slate by his transfer – on Reading station – to a couple who had replied to an advert in the local paper.

It is an extraordinary story, yet one of the inferences both from Sharp's memoir and his brother's thoughtful introduction is that most family histories, if investigated, will turn out to have these bygone wraiths capering mournfully in the woodshed. As for Sergeant-Major McEwan's separated sons (the sub-title about "a family's dark secret and the brothers it tore apart at birth" is misleading; how can you tear apart two people who don't know of each other's existence?), Ian enjoyed a peripatetic childhood, courtesy of his dad's army postings, went to a state boarding school and university and became a distinguished novelist. Dave worked as a bricklayer, supports Reading FC and has a weakness for the mildly sarky aside.

As a piece of drama, Dave's slow but purposeful trip along a path to the half-brother and sister of his mother's first marriage, wide-eyed Ian and even old Mrs McEwan (sadly in no state to recognise him) shortly before her death in 2004, can hardly fail, even if some of the dialogue clunks like a wicker gate. But what about the story of Dave's life, that series of contrasts and comparisons on which, after all, the book relies on for its ballast? This is full of fascinating detail: the privations of the Fifties childhood redeemed by its elemental freedoms; the hospital matron who, as the young father quits the premises with wife and newborn child, snaps: "Remember, six weeks – don't be an animal".

Yet the lurking presence of the amanuensis, in this case John Parker, stirs faint unease about the purity of some of the memories on display. Did Sharp's recollections of, say, Churchill's funeral or the Moon landings spill unchecked onto the page or were they prompted, however indirectly, by his ghost?

There is, of course, another book waiting to be written about l'affaire McEwan. More than one critic has noted that McEwan's novels are simply stiff with children who have either been abandoned (The Cement Garden) or vanished from their parents' grasp (The Child in Time), and hazarded the existence of a vast reservoir of "secret" knowledge periodically escaping from its mental vault. This will probably take a psychologist to construct. In the meantime, Complete Surrender is an intriguing social document.



DJ Taylor's 'Bright Young People' is published by Chatto & Windus

JOHN BLAKE £17.99 (256PP) £16.29 (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam