Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

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Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: An analysis of the irrational nature of love and religion, 'Enduring Love' reads like a scary, suspenseful, thriller with strong characters and storyline with a stalker, based on well-researched condition of erotomania. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: October 2004
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 0099481243

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Joe Rose is a science journalist, in a long term relationship with Clarissa who is coming back from the US that fateful day when the story of 'Enduring Love' begins. Their welcome countryside picnic goes awry when Joe becomes involved in a ballooning accident in which one of the rescuers is killed.

So we already have the set-up, when something - a tragedy - invades the seemingly comfortable and ordered lives of characters. But it's not a mere tragedy, it's not the accident that turns Joe's life upside down, it's the fact that Jed Parry, a fellow rescuer, seems to have developed an obsessive passion for Joe, a passion which only after a time Joe manages to identify as an instance of De Clerambault's Syndrome or erotomania.

The bulk of the novel deals with Joe's experience of being stalked by Jed Parry, and the resulting fallout - the way it affects his relationship with Clarissa, makes him reconsider his work life, but also the way it affects his feelings and ideas about the nature of reality. The story is told from Joe's perspective and the reader tends to generally trust Joe's version of events to have some connection to reality. Despite that, most of the time I had a doubt - just a tiny one - as to the actual reality of the stalking. It took a lot to make me 100% sure it was really happening; the grotesque and out-of-different genre finale was almost necessary to reassure me of Joe's sanity.

I read 'Enduring Love' in a day, like a thriller impossible to put down, even though it's classified as high-brow literature. McEwan knows how to create suspense: the breathless, scary kind; more scary because the sense of foreboding is realistic rather than taken from some ridiculous horror story.

Apart from the suspense, Enduring Love has so much more, though.

It's a meditation on the nature of love, with the relationship of Joe and Clarissa described in ultra realistic if somehow dry and subtle terms. The sequences of events leading to conflict, the inevitability of misunderstanding, the inscrutability of emotions, the birth of mistrust, and - of course - the fundamental and unavoidable self-centeredness of love.

In many ways, the obsessive 'love' of the stalker who 'knows better than you what you feel' is a parody of our 'normal' romantic love, it's a monstrous mirror but a mirror nevertheless. How many times do we find ourselves believing that gestures mean more than words, that there is a deeper meaning in everything, that our beloved, or God for that matter can speak to us in signs? And how difficult it is, even for the most rational amongst us, to get rid of such delusions?

I have seen interpretations of this novel that see it as some kind of affirmation of the spiritual but I couldn't see anything like that in it, to me such an interpretation would be wishful thinking. As does the more recent 'Saturday', 'Enduring Love' ends in a triumph of the rational, in fact the novel can be read as an affirmation of the rational, as a plea against the insanity of deluded love and deluded faith; emotional and spiritual falsity.

The religious angle of Parry's mania is supremely important here as is the fact that Joe is a science writer: after all the novel portrays not only erotic but also religious passion as madness, after all Jed Parry is not only a delusional stalker, he is also a (deluded) believer and despite all the cracks that appear on the smooth surface of Joe's rational personality, the last words (and the last bullet) belong to him, the atheist, the rationalist. In the final count, Parry is nothing more than a pathetic loony. This was very satisfactory to me, as many writers succumb to a temptation of showing a character in crisis turn to one or another kind of religious solace or experiencing doubt.

I would say that of the two of McEwan's manifestos of rationalism I still preferred 'Saturday'; but this one was also an excellent book, concise, readable, definitely brilliant.

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Buy Enduring Love by Ian McEwan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Enduring Love by Ian McEwan at Amazon.com.


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