I have included Enduring Love as one of my many difficult 12 TBR books. I picked this one up because it seems the slimmest book of all that I have to read. And that says a lot about Ian McEwan. The only two books I have read written by McEwan was On Chesil Beach and Atonement. I didn’t rave about Atonement like the rest of the world does but I do like On Chesil Beach, but this one, this Enduring Love beats both of them hands down. Before I tell you why, lets take a look at what this book is all about because I have no clue about the book, which is good because everything that happens after that sort of caught me by surprise (and there were plenty of surprises in this book!).
Enduring Love starts with a heart-stopping, breath gasping actions sequence of several men trying to stop an inevitable ballooning accident. The most agonising aspect is that five men – Joe Rose being one of them – are for a moment hanging by ropes from the wind-buffeted basket, bring along a 10-year-old boy in it. If they all hold on, their combined weight will keep the boy, safely aground. But when one of them drops off, it rapidly becomes a race not to be the last one holding on, the one who will not have time to jump before the ascent of the balloon makes escape impossible.
I didn’t know, now have I ever discovered, who let go first. I’m not prepared to accept that it was me. But everyone claims not to have been first….. but as I’ve said, there was no team, there was no plan, no agreement to be broken. No failure. So can we accept that it was right every man for himself? Were we all happy afterwards that this was a reasonable course? We never had that comfort, for there was a deeper covenant, ancient and automatic, written in our nature. Co-operation – the basis of our earliest hunting successes, the force behind our evolving capacity for language, the glue of our social cohesion. Our misery in the aftermath was proof that we knew we had failed ourselves. But letting go was in our nature too. Selfishness is also written on out hearts. This is our mammal conflict – what to give to the others, and what to keep for yourself. Treading that line, keeping the others in check and being kept in check by them, is what we call morality. – page 14
Unfortunately a good Samaritan by the name of John Logan, a mountain rescuer and determined to save the boy, hung on to the rope and to his death.
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, Joe ran across the field followed by a bloke named Jed Parry. Joe has a brief exchange with Jed Parry, a very strange request from Jed to pray together and believing that God has made this event possible to bring him and Joe together.
Joe was spooked by the balloon accident compounded by Jed subsequent an obsessive interest in Joe, an interest that seems to be partly religious, partly sexual and totally mental, a syndrome that McEwan researched that is called De Clérambault’s syndrome, whose victim’s delusion centralised on a religious theme, a love most enduring of all. Note: there is even a chapter at the end of the book about the De Clérambault’s syndrome research. He waits outside Joe’s flat every day in a state of spiritual infatuation, though he hides when Joe’s girlfriend Clarissa comes into view.
Joe trying to not make a big deal out of Jed’s obsession, reacts reasonably, as he sees it, but doesn’t inform Clarissa at the first instance. This mistake has caused Joe Clarissa’s trust. In a sense, I wouldn’t think it would be of much help when Joe tells her about Jed, Clarrisa brushes it off. But later, she begins to suspect Joe of collusion with Parry, and then of inventing Parry’s obsession for reasons of his own. It is here that I marvel how McEwan use Jed as a ruse to become the catalyst of a couple’s relationship breakdown. The perceptive little action and emotions of two human beings who live together but distrust each other, just when you thought your other half should stand on your side and chose to stand on the other fence instead, is a tragedy of contemporary relationship; harder when it’s a long term one.
Clarissa feels the little cold thump to the heart she always gets when anger is directed at her. But at the same time she’s aware that she has done the very thing she wanted to resist. She has let herself be drawn into Joe’s mental state, his problems, his dilemma, his needs. She has been helpless before the arousal of her protective impulses. Her careful questions were designed to help him and now she is being rewarded by his aggression while her own needs go unnoticed. She was prepared to look after herself, given that he was not up to it, but even that recourse has been denied her. – page 85
It seems not only Joe and Clarrissa have doubts of their own, John Logan’s widow as it turned out was convinced that her husband, a notably cautious man, must have been trying to impress his lover, due to the scarf of a lady found in his car, and he held on to the rope too fatally long.
Soon Jed’s obsession became intense and demands an answer and the whole book spins into a sort-of thriller, fast paced albeit more intelligent than most thrillers I have read. It is so riveting that I finished the book in 2 days and it ended in a neat and satisfactory way.
McEwan seems to be the master of making his readers uncomfortable. Jed’s letters to Joe really spook me. It seems to make sense yet it underlies something more sinister. It made Joe’s question his hard science and think about the existence of God. I imagine myself being obsessed by a deluded stalker, how frightening that might be.
Joe, Joe, Joe… I’ll confess it. I covered five sheets of paper with your name. You can laugh at me – but not too hard. You can be cruel to me – but not too much. Behind the games we play lies a purpose which neither yours nor mine to question. Everything we do together, everything we are is in God’s care and out love takes its existence, form and meaning from His Love. There’s so much to talk about, so many fine details.
I find it strange that the book starts with third person narrative and by the 10th chapter out of the total 24 it became first person narrative, Joe, who tells the story.
The story is disturbing, discuss scientific arguments and question the choice between self and altruism, and the strain that a relationship can sustain before it is broken. Plotting of first class and writing of even higher class, I think about the story long after I put the book down. I will be reading it again at some point in my life.
I would like to watch the movie adapted from the book starred Daniel Craig next and read all of McEwan’s backlist but from what I read some of his books are darker than the others, which sort of put me off a little. Have you read any of McEwan’s novels? Which one is your favourite?
This is the first of my TBR reading challenge.
Paperback. Publisher: VIntage 1998; Length: 245 pages; Setting: Oxfordshire, England. Source: My own copy. Finished reading at: 7th April 2012.