This story is what the play and film Amadeus would be if, instead of composers, Mozart and Salieri were writers and all the while Salieri was stealing Mozart’s work. Or you could say he imagined John Williams (the writer, not the composer) and blended it with Gone Girl.
I’m not sure if McEwan has anything to say here about plagiarism, friendship, hard work, or where ideas come from, but he’s written a fun story about someone who is more patient than talented and uses this “gift” to take something that isn’t his: fame.
The breezy style the story is written in works well because what is popular is usually effortless but we all feel just a little guilty that we don’t take “better art” more seriously and so Mr Sparrow takes advantage of our lack of paying attention to the more “serious” arts. Nobody in this story reads anyone else’s work, it just sells a ton of copies and gets made into movies starring famous actors.
But McEwan is also satirizing the serious artists too by saying they might be a bit too stuffy to be worth reading. John Williams was forgotten until long after he died, and though he was a great artist, nobody is probably ever going to read him (thought they’ll all want to and maybe even buy the Kindle edition but never really get around to it). Nobody is paying attention to art and so Mr Sparrow, our “hero” and thief who lives the most average of middle-class lives can take full advantage of the process and launch him to a height he could never reach by talent alone.
This is why I subscribe to the New Yorker because every once in a while you come across a fun little story like this.