One windy spring day in the Chilterns Joe Rose's calm, organised life is shattered by a ballooning accident. The afternoon could have ended in mere tragedy, but for his brief meeting with Jed Parry. Unknown to Joe, something passes between them - something that gives birth in Parry to an obsession so powerful that it will test to the limits Joe's beloved scientific rationalism, threaten the love of his wife Clarissa and drive him to the brink of murder and madness.
I really do love McEwan's writing. He has an incredibly keen grasp of human psychology, and especially the unreliability of human perception and memory, and at his best he makes most other fiction feel like a gross oversimplification of human complexity. Which, let's face it, it is. I'm also impressed by how scientifically literate his writing is. The main character here is a science writer with a PhD in physics, and McEwan gets him, and his scientific subject matter, absolutely right. This is a guy who thinks in well-chosen scientific metaphors, who often stops to analyze his experiences in terms of anthropology, neurology, or evolutionary psychology. He thinks, in other words, exactly the way I do, and I can't tell you how refreshing it is to see that done in a believable and nuanced way (as opposed to being presented with yet another clueless version of what most people think a smart, science-y guy is supposed to be like). It's particularly unexpected and wonderful in this kind of mainstream literary writing, where I don't often encounter characters I can identify that fully with, in all their good and bad points.
My one complaint about this book, and the reason it didn't rate another extra half-star from me, is that the climax is a little unsatisfying, somehow, a little... anti-climactic. Although the book does at least end on a rather effective note. (A tip for the reader: don't skip the appendices. They are very much part of the story.)
I should also add that I was a little trepidatious about the subject matter, because this kind of story could have very easily come across as unpleasantly homophobic, whether consciously or unconsciously, but thankfully it never does.
The novel opens with a
Where the novel succeeds is in its balance of suspense and uncertainty. Joe quickly ascertains that Jed suffers from erotomania and tries to use the psychological disorder to insulate him from Jed's unusual advances. But McEwan is exceptionally careful throughout, casting only faint glimmers on Jed's behavior and allowing Joe's mind to create the obsession. It forces the reader to question the narrator's veracity, to determine if it's all in Jed's head or if it's really all in Joe's. The balance makes for a page-turning and very exciting read.
Despite McEwan's penchant for set pieces, they work exceptionally well in this novel. Especially as the novel spirals towards its climax, the sets--notably, the scene in which Joe attempts to purchase a gun, and the final climactic confrontation--are used to great effect. Sure, they approach predictable, but that gives the novel a sense of inevitability, not tiredness. Even the appendices that close the work manage to leave the reader with a haunting sense of incompleteness, despite their decidedly clinical tone.
I have always been somewhat uncertain about my feelings about Ian McEwan as a novelist, but Enduring Love is very much a successful work. Rather than try to bog the reader down with details, he takes two fascinating characters and explores the intricacies of their psyches in ways that are familiar but unpredictable. You may see the ending coming from a mile away, but the trip there is about as tense as it gets, and well worth the read.
Though I felt like the book dragged in
The way Enduring Love is written makes each ensuing chapter increasingly frightful. Occasionally there are some unnecessary tangents, but overall the pace of the book is quick. I was a little disappointed in the ending. I found it sort of weak and perhaps a bit too clinical as well. Nevertheless, the story is interesting enough to make this read worthwhile.
A tense and dramatic tale that keeps one guessing throughout; is Joe’s perception of events to be believed, or is all in his mind, or even his own fabrication? The first chapter is especially gripping, and the element of surprise is maintained as the story unfolds.
From that odd but interesting premise comes a intriguing story about how this bizarre and obsessive love threatens Joe's safety and his happy marriage. Although the set up is weird, the emotional changes are totally believable. Having read Atonement but managed to miss the point, I read this with suspicion that the narrator was himself the crazy one, or that he was just misleading us for reasons that would be revealed later.
McEwan pulls it off. Just as a madman can instantly fall in love with a stranger, a love that seemed strong and permanent can erode. The misunderstandings and tensions between Joe and Clarissa are perfectly described, as are the emotions of other characters. Wow.
In keeping with the insidious nature
The novel closes with appendices which are reminiscent of devices used by Michael Creighton in novels such as "The Andromeda Strain". To say more might reveal plot details best savoured in the reading, but in this case I think they're effective in both lowering and heightening the tension that the book creates in a way that a simple continuation of the narrative might have struggled to do.
Unsettling but essential reading. Possibly not if you've been the victim of something like this in the recent past; it may then feel too close to home.