After giving my best friend a 15 minute lecture on some of my favourite reads a few weeks ago, he suggested I read Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (much to my surprise because, although he would like to think of himself as the dreamy academic type – forever with his nose in a book – the reality is he often doesn’t have the attention span for it!) His suggestion was prompted by my comments on Atonement; that I read and absolutely loved about a year ago and whose adaptation for the screen was shown on ITV1 recently. (Will have to try and catch in the future as it looked good.. as irritating as I find Keira Knightley…)
I had a few McEwan titles in my mind to read afterwards; Saturday and Solar being just two, as I loved his writing and was intrigued by all the hype. For some reason however, Enduring Love had escaped my attention, not helped by that fact that I rarely go to the cinema these days and don’t follow the latest releases too closely; meaning that the film also completely passed me by.
Following a terrible ballooning accident at the beginning of the novel which result in one man’s death; bystander Jed Parry, a religious zealot and apparent sufferer of de Clérambault’s syndrome, becomes obsessed with fellow survivor Joe Rose; a writer who, along with his academic wife, live a privileged life in their smart London flat. This obsession leads to deep paranoia and anxiety on Joe’s part, particularly in the wake of the accident and sows the seeds of doubt and apprehension which almost leads eventually to the complete breakdown of his marriage.
This book is deeply disturbing and I certainly jumped more than once at the phone ringing/click of the radiator coming on/the bf coming home, etc, etc. However, I have been left a little cold and I’m finding it difficult to put my finger on exactly why. Perhaps I was expecting an Atonement-esque extravaganza with sex, drama and all the rest, perhaps Daniel Craig put me off, perhaps I simply can’t concentrate enough at the moment to appreciate the issues this book clearly intends to explore; mental health and the clash between religion and science being just two of them. The reader almost suffers as much doubt and suspicion as Joe’s partner Clarissa as to whether this Parry character does really exist as, until the very end of the book, he is the only person who interacts with him – perhaps, we tell ourselves, this man is merely a figment of the main character’s imagination, born out of some form of post traumatic stress.
I find myself feeling rather indifferent (which is far worse than hating a book surely?) There seems to be such grand and great ideas present here, just not enough time taken or the right kind of characters created to express and explore them. The opening scene is suitably dramatic and commands your attention immediately, leaving your hopes high for the rest of the book, but the ensuing story simply doesn’t live up to expectation. One key factor in really appreciating a book is the ability to sympathise with your ‘hero’ and I found it very difficult to feel protective over a couple of uppity academics in their fancy apartment being harrassed by a poor individual with some very serious mental health issues. Joe Rose, rather than taking what I would see as the correct action and immediately seeking out help for this man, allows the situation to affect his own state of mind and get completely out of hand. An additional niggle, and quite amusing at that, in scenes involving Joe and his girlfriend, Clarissa, was the tendency to suddenly leap out of serious discussion to the likes of; ‘and then he reached out and grabbed her breast’ and such forth. The inappropriately timed nature of these interjections (although I understand the importance of establishing these characters attachment to one other) were fairly ridiculous and caused me to laugh out loud and snort once or twice (not great on the quiet train home) and I thought out of place given the enthusiasm I felt for McEwan’s mature, evocative writing whilst reading Atonement.
I don’t think this book is bad, just lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. Perhaps my expectations were far too high and I am merely a little disappointed. This should however be read, if only to superficially explore the issues surrounding conditions such as erotomania (de Clérambault’s syndrome.) The final blow came whilst charity shopping with the bf the other week and coming across a much, much prettier copy (see above) than my own which would have at least meant that this book can dress up my bookshelf – alas, it shall now be resigned to the back row along with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo …..The Girl who ..(ran with scissors? I don’t know) and other such toshy looking books.