‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan – The moral is: never help people out

When should you read this book? Immediately and obsessively.

I vaguely remember watching the film adaptation of this many years ago (note to self: must dig out and watch again) and I remembered it being halfway decent, hence picking up this little masterpiece.

This is the kind of book that makes me look forward to my commute. And indeed when I ran out of time to get to the end of a particularly good scene on the tube, I finished it off by walking around the station and going up the escalators with my head in my Kindle. Pissing off everyone who was trying to get to work that day was absolutely worth it.

What’s it about?

Enduring Love tells the story of Joe Rose, a writer who happens to be having a picnic in the Chilterns with his wife when disaster strikes. They witness a hot air balloon accident and intervene, along with several others, to help. One of the other witnesses is Jed Parry, a lonely young man who interprets the bond he shares with Joe as witnesses to tragedy as something far deeper and more sinister. Let the stalking commence.

Good bits

Ian McEwan is the master of the build up. The story is divided into key scenes, the beginnings of which are so packed full of “little did I know then”s that you can’t help but end up riveted. Hence the frantic escalator reading at Holborn station.

Jed Parry’s characterisation is also nicely done, particularly his tendency towards the upward inflection. Almost everything he says is framed as a question, making him seem pathetic and helping to undermine how dangerous he really is.

The ending is also spectacularly creepy.

Bad bits

McEwan’s prose is sometimes a little bit too flowery and self-indulgent for my tastes. However, if you accept that the narrator is a bourgeois claret drinker you can appreciate that it helps build Joe Rose’s character.

Some thought pokers, to poke your thoughts

Themes: love, obsession, distortion of reality, religion.

Pleasing to see that the idea of what we do with benevolent, but misguided, intentions in the name of love comes out through the whole novel, not just in Parry’s fascination with Joe Rose.

McEwan also draws out what a prat you can be when you truly believe you’re right (and aren’t).

There are strange narrative devices at work here – the story is mostly told by Joe, through letters from other characters, but interestingly also through how Joe imagines other people to feel. There is a sizeable chunk of narrative told by Joe through his wife Clarissa’s eyes. It’s a nice device, suggesting that perhaps Joe’s presumption that he knows exactly how other people feel contributes to his pig-headedness as the story unravels.

Overall Enduring Love is well drawn, compelling, and highly recommended for a paranoia-inducing commute.

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