Saturday, 12 September 2009

Enduring Love

Title: Enduring Love

Author: Ian McEwan

Number of pages: 231

Started: 10 September 2009

Finished: 12 September 2009

Opening words:

The beginning is simple to mark. We were in sunlight under a turkey oak, partly protected from a strong, gusty wind. I was kneeling on the grass with a corkscrew in my hand, and Clarissa was passing me the bottle - a 1987 Daumas Gassac.

This was the moment, this was the pinprick on the time map: I was stretching out my hand, and as the cool neck and the black foil touched my palm, we heard a man's shout. We turned to look across the field and saw the danger. Next thing, I was running towards it.

The transformation was absolute: I don't recall dropping the corkscrew, or getting to my feet, or making a decision, or hearing the caution Clarissa called after me. What idiocy, to be racing into this story and its labyrinths, sprinting away from our happiness among the fresh spring grasses by the oak.

There was the shout again, and a child's cry, enfeebled by the wind that roared in the tall trees along the hedgerows. I ran faster. And there, suddenly, from different points around the field, four other men were converging on the scene, running like me.

Read an extract here

Plot summary:

Joe Rose has planned a postcard-perfect afternoon in the English countryside to celebrate his lover's return after six weeks in the States. To complete the picture, there's even a "helium balloon drifting dreamily across the wooded valley." But as Joe and Clarissa watch the balloon touch down, their idyll comes to an abrupt end. The pilot catches his leg in the anchor rope, while the only passenger, a boy, is too scared to jump down. As the wind whips into action, Joe and four other men rush to secure the basket. Mother Nature, however, isn't feeling very maternal. "A mighty fist socked the balloon in two rapid blows, one-two, the second more vicious than the first," and at once the rescuers are airborne. Joe manages to drop to the ground, as do most of his companions, but one man is lifted sky- high, only to fall to his death.

In itself, the accident would change the survivors' lives, filling them with an uneasy combination of shame, happiness and endless self-reproach. (In one of the novel's many ironies, the balloon eventually lands safely, the boy unscathed.) But fate has far more unpleasant things in store for Joe. Meeting the eye of fellow rescuer Jed Parry, for example, turns out to be a very bad move. For Jed is instantly obsessed, making the first of many calls to Joe and Clarissa's London flat that very night. Soon he's openly shadowing Joe and writing him endless letters. One insane epistle begins, "I feel happiness running through me like an electrical current. I close my eyes and see you as you were last night in the rain, across the road from me, with the unspoken love between us as strong as steel cable." Worst of all, Jed's version of love comes to seem a distortion of Joe's feelings for Clarissa.

Apart from the incessant stalking, it is the conditionals--the contingencies--that most frustrate Joe, a scientific journalist. If only he and Clarissa had gone straight home from the airport... if only the wind hadn't picked up... if only he had saved Jed's 29 messages in a single day... Ian McEwan has long been a poet of the arbitrary nightmare, his characters ineluctably swept up in others' fantasies, skidding into deepening violence, and--worst of all--becoming strangers to those who love them. Even his prose itself is a masterful and methodical exercise in defamiliarization. But Enduring Love and its underrated predecessor, Black Dogs, are also meditations on knowledge and perception as well as brilliant manipulations of our own expectations. By the novel's end, you will be surprisingly unafraid of hot-air balloons, but you won't be too keen on looking a stranger in the eye.

What I thought:

I sort of enjoyed this book. It was a fairly interesting plot that looked at the ramifications of a tragic ballooning accident. But I didn’t find it entirely credible and I also was not always convinced that I liked the authors tone – a bit too pompous and knowledgeable (although I was unsure if this was partly because of what the main character was like or if all of McEwan’s books are like that). It was an interesting tale of obsession, but I did have to allow myself to suspend my scepticism to read it to the end. I don’t think I was entirely convinced. I am not sure if I would read more by this author or not, it left me with mixed feelings.


Anonymous said...

The first McEwan I read was Atonement, and I absolutely loved it, so much so that I read about five books by him that month! Surprisingly enough, this wasn't one of them.

However, with McEwan, what I found was, the more you read him, the more you appreciate his writing. His plots might not be altogether credible, or might be incredibly morbid (The Cement Garden comes to mind), but, it made me keep going back to his books.

I'm intrigued by your review, and will definitely try to get this book soon(ish).

Random Reflections said...

Hello anothercookiecrumbles. Thanks for your comment. Your enthusiasm has made me think I should perhaps try another of his books. I have seen the film of Atonement and enjoyed that, so perhaps I should try reading the book.

I am willing to suspend my sense of credibility about a book if I find it rewarding in other ways. So we shall see if I can do that with another McEwan...

Sarah said...

I love Atonement and On Chesil Beach, but I haven't read this one. I have seem the film and that was enough to give me a haunting and unpleasant sense of the "what ifs" you describe. Ugh.

I would expect the book to be more intense, and I just didn't want to be that harrowed...

It's interesting that you describe the writer's tone as pompous; it fits in with other criticisms I have read of him. That he lacks compassion for his characters, who also, and damningly, tend to be invariably white-collar...

But The Cement Garden gives a quite different perspective, although I don't think I could bring myself to read it again.

Random Reflections said...

Yes, it is quite an intense book and one that is uncomfortable at times.

I am intrigued by The Cement Garden now, but I am not sure if it is in a way that makes me want to read it or avoid it!

Having only read one McEwan book I am still not sure if the pomposity was the character or the author, so perhaps only reading another one will tell me. If I can summon up the courage.