It’s twenty years since this, Ian McEwan’s sixth novel was published. I read it back in 1998 and loved it and it’s been sitting on my shelves awaiting a re-read since then. I had considered it his finest work until a re-read of “Atonement” two years ago brought home to me how really good that book is. That’s the funny thing with re-reads, you can’t always tell whether they will really sparkle more the second time around (as “Atonement” did for me) or whether they will end up being not quite as good as you remember, and this is the case for “Enduring Love”.
It starts superbly, with one of the great opening sections of modern literature. A hot air balloon gets out of control with a young boy in the basket. This has seared into my brain and haunted me for the past two decades. The fear factor of this was probably intensified because the first time I read this I was sat on a plane, which was not really the best idea!
Five men rush to assist the stricken balloon and as possibly a response to the sudden traumatic and tragic event, a young man, Jed Parry, become obsessed with the narrator Joe. A campaign of letters, phone calls and stalking follow as Jed cannot comprehend that his love is not reciprocal and he believes that he can bring Joe closer to God if he will only succumb to his attentions. Joe is a scientific journalist who recognises in Jed a form of De Clerambault’s syndrome, a homo-erotic obsession with religious overtones, but is the whole thing in Joe’s mind, his own response to a sudden life-changing traumatic experience?
The novel is at its strongest with its depiction of the dark relationship between the two men but what we have here is far more than a stalking-based thriller. The scientific bias of the narrator explores rationality as he tries to put the ways his life changes following his actions into perspective. On re-reading I found this aspect to be drier than I remembered and the whole novel did not seem as tightly plotted as my memory had it. A number of set pieces, however, throughout the novel ensure that this is a high quality, memorable read although none of these conjure up the suspense of the opening. As a novel it lacks the scope and greater depth of characterisation of “Atonement” which appeared three years later but it is still a great example of writing from one of our finest living British writers.
I read the paperback version of “Atonement” which was published by Vintage in 1998.