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Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

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.

Rating : 

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.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


10 thoughts on “Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

  1. I have finished reading The Cement Garden (his first published novel, if I am not mistaken) just a few weeks ago. It was very dark and disturbing. And I don’t think you would like it at all. Haha. But you can try – if we can overlook certain part(s) of it, it can be less uneasy and more readable. 😛

    That’s the only McEwan’s novels I have read. My next-to-read will most probably be Atonement.

    Posted by Ting Ting | May 1, 2012, 1:11 am
    • Ting,
      Dark and disturbing. Oh dear, I better not read that one then! I still have Saturday and Solar on my pile. We will soon see how I feel about his other books!

      Posted by JoV | May 1, 2012, 8:30 am
  2. I might write a review about The Cement Garden one day. Then you will know what you will get yourself into, in case you change your mind. Hehe.

    Hope to hear from you about what you think of Saturday and Solar 🙂

    Posted by Ting Ting | May 1, 2012, 9:52 am
  3. Wow, totally not what I expected this book to be about. I also wasn’t aware that a movie was made. I love McEwan. He has a habit of taking you down a long path before getting you to where you need to be but I love the journey.

    Posted by Ti | May 1, 2012, 2:53 pm
  4. This is an interesting line to me from your post: “McEwan seems to be the master of making his readers comfortable.” I don’t mean to be rude, but I beg to differ. Atonement made me want to slap Briony, still does; On Chesil Beach made me want to slap the honeymooners, but less so than Briony, and In The Comfort of Strangers totally creeped me out with the stalker guy in the streets of Venice. So apparently, I need to read this one! XO

    Posted by Bellezza | May 5, 2012, 7:10 pm
    • Bellezza,
      lol… you might want to slap Joe Rose – the protagonist in Enduring Love then! let me know, I still think this is better than Atonement or On Chesil Beach. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | May 6, 2012, 8:17 am
  5. In what way does Enduring Love start in 3rd person.. ‘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.’ Joe Rose is constantly telling the story sorry you’ve actually really confused me… the second sentence of the novel begins with ‘we’… in what way is this third person. It is undeniably 1st throughout asides from Chapter 9 when Joe Rose attempts to tell the story from Clarissa’s point of view or as he ‘later construed it’ and in the chapters that are the letters of Jed Parry.
    I may be wrong but that is unlikely

    Posted by Leah | May 2, 2014, 1:44 pm


  1. Pingback: It’s a wrap! April 2012 « JoV's Book Pyramid - May 1, 2012

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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