Saturday, 31 December 2011

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Don't let the title fool you - this is NOT a fluffy love story (I'm not sure Ian McEwan is capable of fluffy). Enduring Love is a story about obsession, of the most unhealthy kind.

Joe is a scientist-turned-journalist, in a happy relationship with his long-term partner, Clarissa. One day the couple take a picnic to the Chiltern hills where, along with a handful of other passers by, they become involved in a terrible ballooning accident. In the accident's aftermath, an innocent glance of sympathy from Joe towards one of the other men involved in the accident is misconstrued, so beginning a nightmare which threatens his happiness, his relationship and even his sanity.

This is only the second McEwan book I've read, but already I feel I'm starting to get the measure of this extraordinary author. He deals in the darker side of human emotion, and explores what happens when things get out of control and go too far. In Enduring Love, he takes a recognised medical condition and imagines where it might lead somebody who is caught in its grip. But the real focus of the drama isn't on the lunatic who's stalking Joe, it's on Joe himself and what happens to his own mind, his powers of reasoning and his emotional stability when he finds himself the object of an obsession.

The story is written in the first person from Joe's point of view, but there are a couple of sections which are angled from Clarissa's perspective. They really make the reader stop and think, lifting us out of Joe's mind to see how his irrational behaviour must seem to those around him. The writing is brilliant and clever, and I found a session of reading this actually affected my mood after I'd put the book down, which doesn't often happen. Just as when reading The Cement Garden, McEwan's writing makes me feel ever so slightly grey and grubby, as though there's an atmospheric cloud of gloom hovering above. Not the best feeling in the world, but you can't help admiring any author who provokes such a reaction.

There is also a film of Enduring Love, which I wished I hadn't seen as it spoiled the story a little. However, it is excellent and stays very close to the story, so I would definitely recommend it to anyone who's already read the book. As for Ian McEwan, I think I can now declare myself a fan and start drawing up a list of all the other books of his I need to read.

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