Happy ending to Ian McEwan story
John Walsh

The Comfort of Strangers ended with the double murder of an English couple in Venice. At the end of The Child in Time, the little girl abducted in the opening chapter stays unsaved. His Booker Prize-winning Amsterdam ends with the mutual murder of two friends, Clive and Vernon. Enduring Love closes with the death of the love-crazed stalker in the grip of de Clerambaut’s Syndrome. It would, frankly, be difficult to confuse any of McEwan’s moody, troubling works with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

One happy ending landed on him five years ago, when he discovered that he had an older brother. Their meeting came to light last week.

McEwan’s long-lost sibling was Dave Sharp, a 64-year-old bricklayer, who tracked him down without knowing a thing about his reputation. The story was a classic wartime affair. In 1942, a married woman called Rose Wort became pregnant while her husband was away at the war. Desperate to get rid of the baby before her husband found out, she put a small-ad in the newspapers saying, with the utmost pathos: "Wanted, home for baby boy, age one month: complete surrender." The ad was answered; the baby handed over at Reading railway station. But her husband, Ernest, never came home.

He died after the D-Day landings. Rose married the baby’s father, Regimental Sergeant Major David McEwan and the future novelist, Ian, was born in 1948. Dave, meanwhile, was brought up by Percy and Rose Sharp and, at 14, was told that he was adopted. He was in his 50s when he approached the Salvation Army’s family tracking service, who found an aunt prepared to spill the beans about Rose’s secret. David met Rose before she died in 2003, and then encountered McEwan, who welcomed him into the family.

It’s a tale with several fictional (at times near-Dickensian) elements: the brothers lived just a few miles apart for years; the scenes when their conversations were interrupted by McEwan fans seeking autographs, to Mr Sharp’s bemusement; the physical differences between them—Ian the thin-faced intellectual dealer in words and ideas, Dave the large, florid man of action, dealing in bricks and walls.

McEwan’s early, Dave-less, family life was not very warm, by all accounts. His parents were unloving and distant. "They just sort of fed and monitored you, so it was a pretty lonely place to be," he says. He went to boarding school and, after university, signed up to the just-created MA course in creative writing at East Anglia University, the brainchild of Malcolm Bradbury. It did not teach him much, he has said, but it gave him the best thing for a writer: time.

With the arrival of Dave, has the public decided to forgive him for the last contretemps in which he was involved, the plagiarism scandal of last autumn? The international row concerned his 2001 novel, Atonement, and the use he made of some passages from No Time for Romance by Lucilla Andrews.

McEwan openly acknowledged his use of Andrews’ book at the end of Atonement; and when she died last year, he went on the Radio 4 Today programme to say how much he admired her writing.

McEwan is well-liked and admired by peers and readers, despite his galling high sales as well as good reviews. He is puckishly funny, approachable, generous with praise and down-to-earth, with a fondness for gossip and pub rock bands.

So his troubled story has, for the moment, found a happy ending. The only cloud on the horizon is the news that Dave has himself now written a book, about his life and his search for his family. It’s called Complete Surrender. Let us pray he didn’t use anyone else’s writings on adoption, or there’ll be hell to pay.

— By arrangement with The Independent