[Ian McEwan] recalls, while researching Atonement, how he came across a letter in the Imperial War Museum from a young lieutenant to his fiancee written as his company was withdrawing from Belgium and all of France seemed on fire.
‘He wrote, “This is the end of civilisation. I don’t see how we are ever going to get out of this.” He’d just seen 20 or 30 orphans lying on the ground, killed by the shelling of the city centre. In a letter sent by the very last post available, he told her to go and see his father and borrow 80 guineas and buy the house they had seen. He said “only ordinariness will save us”.
‘It was a sort of proposal of marriage and reading that I thought something of my own parents and their generation – they seemed so timid and boring in their love of ordinariness and domestic life and simple things. That was why they went on about the new colour TV or the car they polished every Sunday, the regular unthreatening life. They’d seen things we’d never seen.’