Enduring Love – Ian McEwan (1998)

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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.

fourstars

I read the paperback version of “Atonement” which was published by Vintage in 1998.

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Nutshell – Ian McEwan (2016) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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I feel that Ian McEwan has been part of my reading life for a long time.  I was 18 and supposedly revising for my A Levels when I discovered his first two collections of short stories, the Somerset Maugham award-winning “First Love, Last Rites” (1975) and “In Between The Sheets” (1978).  I had never read anything like these tales ever before.  I also devoured  his dark debut novel “The Cement Garden” (1978) whilst I should have been listing the reasons for the French Revolution.

His next couple of novels seemed slighter affairs but I was back with him for “The Innocent” (1990) and particularly for his tale of  hot air balloons and obsession “Enduring Love” (1998), a book I am determined to re-read this year to see if it is as good as I remembered.  His 1998 Booker Prize winning “Amsterdam” is less memorable and came before the book which should have picked up every accolade going, his masterwork as far as I am concerned “Atonement” (2001), one of the best novels of this century so far.  I still have the last three before this latest, “Solar” (2010), Sweet Tooth (2012) and “The Children Act” (2014) sitting on my shelves waiting to be read but I couldn’t hold out when I saw “Nutshell” in my local library and had to borrow it and read it, especially as he is the current holder of my  Reviewsrevues Book Of The Year Re-Read Award.

My verdict- it is very good but not classic McEwan.  It lacks the richness and depth of his very best but it is a very involving and memorable read.  Narrated by a foetus in a womb this is certainly a crime novel with a difference.  This very well-informed youngster has picked up significant life experiences from listening to podcasts and the radio as well as a gourmand’s tastes from the rich food and copious amounts of wine his mother imbibes.  He has a vivid sense of the world he has never seen, two factors which make him a fascinating if not totally reliable narrator.  When he hears his mother and her lover, Claude, his father’s brother, plotting to kill his father (obvious shades of “Hamlet” here) he faces the dilemma of being a small part of a “perfect crime” coupled with a need for his biological father backed by an awareness of what repercussions there will be for his young life if things go wrong.

This is very much a character study of the three sides of the love triangle as seen through the (unopened) eyes of the embryo.  There are digressions aplenty as he attempts to make sense of his world before he makes an appearance and an attuned awareness of the developments of the murder plot.  The three adults are brought to life vividly but it is the unborn who the reader will be rooting for.  It’s original and like the best crime novels I did find myself holding my breath towards the end as McEwan’s plot comes to resolution.

fourstars

 

Nutshell was published in hardback by Jonathan Cape in September 2016.  The paperback edition is due in June 2017.

My Top Re-read of 2016

My Top Re-read is a book I first read 14 years ago and it really impressed me then.  I think it worked even better a second time.  This book is……………

Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)

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I read and reviewed this back in January, partly because I had agreed to do a piece for Newbooks magazine comparing the book to the film.  Obviously, when I first read the book the film had not been made but this was one occasion where the images of the film had seared their way into my brain.  I re-read the book before re-watching the film, was blown away by both and wrote a piece for NB 88  which to celebrate the lofty position this book has attained for me this year I’m going to republish here.

Atonement written by Ian McEwan ( Vintage 2001) Vs. Atonement-directed by Joe Wright (2007)

When thinking of a modern novel where the film version is of an equally high quality to the book the first that came to mind was “Atonement”.  To see if my initial reaction was correct I have recently revisited both.  On re-reading, the book was even better than I remembered, the film, watched so soon after completing the book, slightly less so, but both deserve to be considered as modern classics and offer five star experiences.

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Ian McEwan had up to this point, not fared as well as might have been expected with film adaptations.  I had high hopes of 2004’s “Enduring Love” starring Daniel Craig but it didn’t match the intensity of the book.  McEwan’s 2001 masterpiece is written in four sections- a country house in a heatwave in 1935: at Dunkirk in 1940; at a London hospital at around the same time and London in 1999.  The first section translates to film sumptuously, closely follows McEwan’s careful plotting and often dialogue (Christopher Hampton wrote the Screenplay).  It is beautifully performed with James McAvoy and Keira Knightley particularly shining throughout.

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Where we have a deviation with the intensity of the novel is the second section, particularly on the road to Dunkirk, which to an extent, is glossed over.  This is a brutal, visceral section of the book, quite difficult to read and obviously deemed too difficult to watch.  The Dunkirk of the film has been rightly praised for the vividness of the depiction but is a place of far more hope than McEwan’s vision and by taking away some of the bleakness it, to an extent, diffuses the power of some of what comes afterwards.  This had passed me by on first viewing but with McEwan’s words and images so firmly in my mind it became apparent.  I had to keep reminding myself to breathe when I was reading the book, and although, the film was intense, it was less so.  To an extent the viewers have been spared quite a bit of the horrors of war, which probably made sense when marketing the film.

The end section avoids the delightful sense of completion to the story but does make a final twist more definite and more shocking which had me scurrying back for the book for confirmation.  Without doubt the film-makers got it right and made a film which was stunning in both appearance and content.

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