Enduring love; the book’s title promises the story of a faithful relationship, of love transcending all obstacles, something reminiscent of Shakespeare’s ‘Marriage of True Minds’. Somewhat luckily, reading McEwan’s other masterpiece “Atonement” and living with the rather faulty configuration of my own mind had already primed me to discover something much more disturbing.
McEwan doesn’t really wait for you to figure out what’s going on here, much unlike the idyllic, slow pace of the Country house backdrop in Atonement. Instead, we’re thrown headlong into the life of a science journalist called Joe Rose and his beautiful wife Clarissa, on an everyday outing when a ballooning accident makes everything go horribly, horribly wrong. Joe Rose and other witnesses, including a man called Jed Parry, get involved in a startling and suspenseful narrative whirlwind where they are faced with a split-second moral decision that could change the courses of their lives forever. Yet there’s still more to this tragedy, as Parry, a seemingly religious fanatic, crosses paths with Rose and the incident becomes a catalyst that gives birth to an obsessive, enduring love.
I think it’s worth considering the similarities to Atonement and what I understand so far about McEwan’s writing style, having read two of his books. Firstly, there’s the concept of ‘Believing is seeing’. McEwan emphasises the idea that we see what we choose to see; in Atonement, Marshall walks free while Robbie is clearly guilty, according to social hegemony. Extremely cleverly, he made me see what I believed I saw; a man erotically hallucinating about another man following him, some form of repressed homosexuality. The unreliable narrator, combined with seemingly ‘normal’ Clarissa’s responses, made me believe with near certainty that Rose had gone mad and was writing these letters/memoirs to himself. McEwan also seems to master writing about the one event which radically changes everything because the tensions from each character converge. This helps me understand Atonement better too; Briony’s accusation changes everything, but only because everyone else’s intolerance and immorality finds opportunity for expression. Would Robbie still have had the same fate if Paul Marshall confessed, and didn’t offer the policemen “gold-tipped cigarettes”? Or if Emily Tallis didn’t despise the element of her sister which she could see in Lola?
Narrative style has also really begun to intrigue me after Atonement. In Enduring Love, there is a lot of confusion stemming from whose narrative you choose to believe. I was surprised that Clarissa misunderstood the disturbing obsession Jed Parry had, considering she has a passion for studying Yeats’ love letters, frequently deals with unconventionality in her own and her family’s relationships and is someone who claims to understand emotions. All the characters have a void in their lives too; Clarissa is childless, and Joe Rose is dealing with the frustration of doing science journalism rather than pure science. In fact, this could allude to the hot air balloon incident; how a character full of pent-up frustration can, with a sparking point, cross the line into insanity. If I’m honest, I have to say I found the book extremely disturbing and difficult to pinpoint the philosophy it was coming from.
The latter half of the story becomes incredibly surreal, inching towards darker things like murder. I think this is where Joe Rose’s obsession with science at the elementary level comes to life, as McEwan describes microscopic insects in the soil or hydrogen particles in the water. I think here, McEwan wanted to depict him taking decisions based on sheer rationality, even though he is governed by the instinctual, primitive fight or flight. Clarissa perhaps lets her emotion and imagination take over far too much in some places, particularly when she starts becoming scared of her own partner (Rose). I think there is such a crossover of emotion and rationality in these characters, and the extremes of both cause huge misunderstandings.
Read this if you’re looking for something eccentric and slightly taboo. The ending is not as mind-blowing as Atonement’s, but the character development is extremely fascinating, even if it is disturbing. The suspense escalates quite well in the final chapters, when we get to the event to end the whole matter. What puts it back slightly for me is that the average reader might find the story a little lacking in variation and the plot clues too obscure to make sense and have a significant effect. Altogether, I would give it a 3.5 out of 5.
Thanks for reading! What’s your experience of reading McEwan? Feel free to speak your mind below.
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