Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

The Blurb On The Back:

There’s no blurb on the back, instead there are the following quotes:

”A page turned, with a plot so engrossing that it seems reckless to pick the book up in the evening if you plan to get any sleep that night … Enduring Love is also blessed with the psychological richness of the finest literary novel.”

Alain de Botton, Daily Mail

“Taut with narrative excitements and suspense … a novel of rich diversity that triumphantly integrates imagination and intelligence, rationality and emotional alertness.”

Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

“He is the maestro at creating suspense; the particular, sickening, see-sawing kind that demands a kind of physical courage from the reader to continue reading.”

Amanda Craig, New Statesman

“McEwan’s exploration of his characters’ lives and secret emotions is a virtuoso display of fictional subtlety and intelligence.”

Robert McCrum, Observer

“McEwan’s latest, and possibly finest … his trademarks are in full force, combining stomach-pit dread and almost unbearable pathos.  His technique is unparalleled; like the smiler with the knife, he finally slips it to the reader with exquisite smoothness.”

Fiona Russell Powell, Guardian

“He creates an opening that is unforgettable … McEwan does a superb job of making us believe what seems so unlikely, and that is the book’s greatest power.”

Jan Daley, Independent on Sunday

You can order Enduring Love by Ian McEwan from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

40-something science writer Joe Rose lives with his long-term partner, Clarissa Mellon (a professor of English literature who specialises in Keats) in a flat in Maida Vale.  When Clarissa returns to the UK from a 7-week sabbatical, they decide to celebrate by going for a picnic in the Cotswolds but just as they are settling down to eat, a hot air balloon gets into difficulties in a nearby field.  Joe and 4 other men race to help the pilot to secure the balloon, which has a young boy in it but a freak gust of wind carries it away and one of the rescuers dies.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Joe shares a look with Jed Parry (one of the other men who tried to help) who offers to pray with him.  Joe declines and he and Clarissa leave to return to their lives.  But Jed isn’t about to let him go so easily, for he believes that their look was means that Joe is in love with him, that he has to lead Joe back to God and that nothing on this earth is going to stop him …

Ian McEwan’s critically acclaimed literary suspense novel (first published in 1997) is a prescient examination of the helplessness and paranoia that comes from being a victim of stalking, which slowly builds tension in a way that still feels relevant today.  However the literary allusions are smug and heavy handed and I never quite bought into Joe’s lack of reaction to the homosexual overtones of Jed’s obsession or Clarissa’s lack of support.

I was surprised at how ahead of its time this book was with regard to the phenomenon of stalking and how it feels to be a victim of it.  For the most part I believed in Joe’s helplessness, disbelief and increasing paranoia as Jed refuses to leave him alone and the scenes where Joe tries to involve the police, only to be rebuffed on the basis that Jed’s behaviour doesn’t constitute a crime still carries some resonance today (despite legislative changes and better training).  However McEwan did stretch my disbelief when Joe conveniently deleted Jed’s telephone messages, even though doing so would prove to Clarissa that something strange is going on.  I was also surprised at how relaxed Joe is with the homosexual nature of Jed’s obsession given how he establishes how happy he is with Clarissa and how he knows she’s out of his league – it just seemed to me to be something he would at least mention.

One of my issues with literary fiction is that the author’s always very keen to show how educated and intelligent they are and unfortunately this is no different.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand the importance of Keats in this book or what his missing letters represented.  I’m guessing that Clarissa’s obsession with tracking them down tacked in with the general theme of obsession but I got the feeling there was something else I was supposed to take from it too.  I did wonder if it was tied into Clarissa’s lack of support or sympathy for Joe’s situation.  I understood some of that into the fact that she had her own PTSD from seeing the hot air balloon tragedy but the way McEwan writes it also makes it seem like some of it is resentment when Joe doesn’t ask about how her day when she’s had a bad one.  This might have been less of a problem if Clarissa had been better written but so much of her storyline seems to exist to put her in danger and therefore make Joe right.

McEwan makes a great play about Joe’s devotion to science, which informs his atheism and opposition to Jed’s religious message and McEwan also gives Joe his own obsession with returning to “proper” academic scientific research, only to be stymied by the fact that he’s been out of the field for too long.  For me, this came out of nowhere and seemed to be there to tie in with the general theme of obsession but it wasn’t enough to make Joe seem unstable and instead just made me think of him as a bit of a snob.

What McEwan does do well is build the sense of dread as Jed keeps escalating his campaign.  There is a real sense of menace in the restaurant scene and later when Joe decides to buy a gun, which made it easy to suspend disbelief (e.g. the ease with which Jed is able to hire killers or the fact that Joe’s drug dealer apparently still remembers him) and while the denouement is a little cliched, it still packs a punch.

The book ends with a fake psychological paper on de Clérambault’s syndrome, which is an interesting novelty and provides closure to Jed’s storyline.  The academic tone bizarrely gives him more humanity than the preceding novel does and I was surprised at how sorry I felt for him, even while he remains sinister.

All in all, my issues with the genre aside, I did enjoy this book because it’s tense and there’s a fascination in seeing how stalking is not a new phenomenon and many of the issues still remain and on that basis I think it’s worth a look.  

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