The Barnes & Noble Review
The story begins on a windy spring day in the Chilterns when the calm, organized life of science writer Joe Rose is shattered when he witnesses a tragic accident: A balloon with a young boy trapped in it is tossed by the wind, and in an attempt to save the child, a man is killed. The afternoon, Joe reflects, could have ended in more tragedy but for his brief meeting with Jed Parry, who has joined Rose in helping to bring the balloon to safety.
But unknown to Rose, something passes between them something that gives birth in Parry to an obsession so powerful that it will test the limits of Rose's scientific rationalism, threaten his relationship with his wife, Clarissa, and drive him to take desperate measures to stay alive.
Parry suffers from a condition known to psychiatrists as De Clerambault syndrome, in which the afflicted individual obsessively pursues the object of his desire until the frustrated love turns to hate and rage transforming one of life's most valued experiences into pathological horror. Seeking answers in science, Rose grows more paranoid and terrified until his fear threatens to crack his marriage, and he realizes that he needs something beyond the cold reason of science if this love is to be endured.
With the brilliance and deep compassion that have brought so many readers to his work, Ian McEwan once again spins a tale of life intruded upon and discovers profound truths about the nature of love and the power of forgiveness. Compelling, utterly and terrifyingly convincing, Enduring Love reveals howanordinary man can be driven to the brink of murder and madness by another man's delusions.
Journal of the American Medical Association
The novel is lyrical and engrossing. Episodes have an emotional impact that forges associations (I will always remember of a piece the opening chapter and the setting in which I read it). Readers of JAMA will find pleasure and provocation in Enduring Love.
The opening scene in
Enduring Love is absolutely riveting: Joe Rose,
who's picnicking with his wife, Clarissa, hears a
shout and races toward a helium balloon that's
about to crash with a boy trapped in its basket.
Joe and four other passers-by attempt to rescue
the child by grabbing onto the balloon to weigh it
down. But as the balloon suddenly rises, four of
the men -- Joe included -- let go; only one man
holds on, and he's killed for his bravery.
"Hanging a few feet above the Chilterns
escarpment, our crew enacted morality's ancient,
irresolvable dilemma: us, or me."
In the early chapters, McEwan slows the action
and savors the implications of individuals' pulling
together or falling apart. But it's soon revealed
that the ballooning accident is a bit of clever
misdirection, an intense experience that propels
Jed Parry, one of the would-be heroes, to fall
hopelessly and obsessively in love with Joe.
While Joe, a science writer, is prepared to parse
out the Darwinian impulses that might explain the
ballooning tragedy, he's powerless to make sense
of Parry's stalking phone calls and appearances
outside Joe and Clarissa's flat.
McEwan, the author of The Comfort of
Strangers and Black Dogs, is interested in how
we construct coherent narratives out of chaos.
Eventually, Joe de-mystifies Parry by diagnosing
his feelings as a morbid passion called de
Clerambault's syndrome. Too bad, because
naming and pathologizing Parry's love saps the
story of its energy. Instead of confronting Parry,
Joe buys a gun and becomes enmeshed in a
meandering side plot. And then -- unexpectedly,
miraculously -- the novel comes alive again in its
two appendices, one a clinical case study of de
Clerambault's syndrome and the other a
blissed-out letter from Parry to Joe. McEwan
offers these two poles, the scientific and
emotional, to frame the range of responses to the
inexplicable mystery of love, pathological or
Enduring Love gracefully bridges genres; it's a
psychological thriller, a meditation on the
narrative impulse, a novel of ideas. McEwan's
prose is deft, unself-conscious and a joy to read.
Here's a book that kept me up all night,
mesmerized and entertained. So why am I ingrate
enough to complain? For all the wonderful
moments, I wish McEwan hadn't dropped the
ball, chasing stray plot lines when he could have
been teasing out the complexities of the
relationships between Parry, Joe and Clarissa. It's
because Enduring Love sometimes soars to
such heights that I'm disappointed it didn't, in the
end, reach greatness. -- Salon
After the calm of a pleasant afternoon picnic is punctured by a terrible accident--a man falls to his death as a hot-air balloon floats away, carrying a child--Joe Rose finds himself imbedded in the aftershock. One of several men who tried to hold down the balloon but eventually let go, he must reconcile his part in the tragedy with the threat posed by a stalker trying to save him through love. In turns obsessively morbid and cunningly funny, McEwan's deftly crafted prose holds the reader with the intensity of a thriller while engaging in a deep psychological exploration of shock, grief, the need for redemption, and, ultimately, the makeup of compassion and love. (LJ 10/15/98)
...[A] vibrant and unsettling [novel that] reminds us that normal behavior conceals but does not banish unsavory truths.
The New York Times Book Review
Ian McEwan's reputation as a writer of small, impeccably written fictions is secure. His gift for the cold and scary is well established, too....But his books are more than tales of suspense and shock; they raise issues of guilt and love and fear, essentially of what happens when the civilized and ordered splinters against chaos. There can be something of Greek myth in his narratives....At the same time he is the quietest and most lucid of stylists, with never a word wasted or fumbled.
The New York Review of Books
From the Publisher
"An utterly compelling and haunting chronicle of private terror and delusion.... In Enduring Love, Ian McEwan has given us some of the best prose being written in English." —The Times Literary Supplement
"Utterly thrilling.... All I can do is praise the clarity and intelligence of the writing and say that Enduring Love is as riveting at the finish as it is at the start." —The Globe and Mail
"A drastic demonstration of human damageability.... Alive with tension and flickering with sardonic wit ... Enduring Love is taut with narrative excitements and suspense." —The Sunday Times
"A riveting showdown between faith and logic.... One of the most original, compelling works of McEwan's career." —Maclean's
Read an Excerpt
I should make something clear. There may have been a vague communality of purpose, but we were never a team. There was no chance, no time. Coincidences of time and place, a predisposition to help, had brought us together under the balloon. No one was in charge--or everyone was, and we were in a shouting match. The pilot, red-faced, bawling, and sweating, we ignored. Incompetence came off him like heat. But we were beginning to bawl our own instructions too. I know that if I had been uncontested leader, the tragedy would not have happened. Later I heard some of the others say the same thing about themselves. But there was not time, no opportunity for force of character to show. Any leader, any firm plan, would have been preferable to none. No human society, from the hunter-gatherer to the postindustrial, has come to the attention of anthropologists that did not have its leaders and the led; and no emergency was ever dealt with effectively by democratic process.
It was not so difficult to bring the passenger basket down low enough for us to see inside. We had a new problem. The boy was curled up on the floor. His arms covered his face and he was gripping his hair tightly. "What's his name?" we said to the red-faced man.
"Harry!" we shouted. "Come on, Harry. Harry! Take my hand, Harry. Get out of there, Harry!"
But Harry curled up tighter. He flinched each time we said his name. Our words were like stones thrown down at his body. He was in paralysis of will, a state known as learned helplessness, often noted in laboratory animals subjected to unusual stress; all impulses to problem-solving disappear, all instinct for survival drains away. We pulledthe basket down to the ground and managed to keep it there, and we were just leaning in to try and lift the boy out when the pilot shouldered us aside and attempted to climb in. He said later that he told us what he was trying to do. We heard nothing for our own shouting and swearing. What he was doing seemed ridiculous, but his intentions, it turned out, were completely sensible. He wanted to deflate the balloon by pulling a cord that was tangled in the basket.
"Yer great pillock!" Lacey shouted. "Help us reach the lad out."
I heard what was coming two seconds before it reached us. It was as though an express train were traversing the treetops, hurtling toward us. An airy, whining, whooshing sound grew to full volume in half a second. At the inquest, the Met office figures for wind speeds that day were part of the evidence, and there were some gusts, it was said, of seventy miles an hour. This must have been one, but before I let it reach us, let me freeze the frame--there's a security in stillness--to describe our circle.
To my right the ground dropped away. Immediately to my left was John Logan, a family doctor from Oxford, forty-two years old, married to a historian, with two children. He was not the youngest of our group, but he was the fittest. He played tennis to county level and belonged to a mountaineering club. He had done a stint with a mountain rescue team in the western Highlands. Logan was a mild, reticent man, apparently, otherwise he might have been able to force himself usefully on us as a leader. To his left was Joseph Lacey, sixty-three, farm laborer, odd-job man, captain of his local bowls team. He lived with his wife in Watlington, a small town at the foot of the escarpment. On his left was his mate, Toby Greene, fifty-eight, also a farm laborer, unmarried, living with his mother at Russell's Water. Both men worked for the Stonor estate. Greene was the one with the smoker's cough. Next around the circle, trying to get into the basket, was the pilot, James Gadd, fifty-five, an executive in a small advertising
company who lived in Reading with his wife and one of their grownup children, who was mentally handicapped. At the inquest, Gadd was found to have breached half a dozen basic safety procedures, which the coroner listed tonelessly. Gadd's ballooning license was withdrawn. The boy in the basket was Harry Gadd, his grandson, ten years old, from Camberwell, London. Facing me, with the ground sloping away to his left, was Jed Parry. He was twenty-eight, unemployed, living on an inheritance in Hampstead.
This was the crew. As far as we were concerned, the pilot had abdicated his authority. We were breathless, excited, determined on our separate plans, while the boy was beyond participating in his own survival. He lay in a heap, blocking out the world with his forearms. Lacey, Greene, and I were attempting to fish him out, and now Gadd was climbing over the top of us. Logan and Parry were calling out their own suggestions. Gadd had placed one foot by his grandson's head and Greene was cussing him when it happened. A mighty fist socked the balloon in two rapid blows, one-two, the second more vicious than the first. And the first was vicious. It jerked Gadd right out of the basket onto the ground, and it lifted the balloon five feet or so, straight into the air. Gadd's considerable weight was removed from the equation. The rope ran through my grip, scorching my palms, but I managed to keep hold, with two feet of line spare. The others kept hold too. The basket was right above our heads now, and we stood with arm
s upraised like Sunday bell ringers. Into our amazed silence, before the shouting could resume, the second punch came and knocked the balloon up and westward. Suddenly we were treading the air with all our weight in the grip of our fists.
Those one or two ungrounded seconds occupy as much space in memory as might a long journey up an uncharted river. My first impulse was to hang on in order to keep the balloon weighted down. The child was incapable, and was about to be borne away. Two miles to the west were high-voltage power lines. A child alone and needing help. It was my duty to hang on, and I thought we would all do the same.
Almost simultaneous with the desire to stay on the rope and save the boy, barely a neuronal pulse later, came other thoughts, in which fear and instant calculations of logarithmic complexity were fused. We were rising, and the ground was dropping away as the balloon was pushed westward. I knew I had to get my legs and feet locked around the rope. But the end of the line barely reached below my waist, and my grip was slipping. My legs flailed in the empty air. Every fraction of a second that passed increased the drop, and the point must come when to let go would be impossible or fatal. And compared with me, Harry was safe, curled up in the basket. The balloon might well come down safely at the bottom of the hill. And perhaps my impulse to hang on was nothing more than a continuation of what I had been attempting moments before, simply a failure to adjust quickly.
And again, less than one adrenally incensed heartbeat later, another variable was added to the equation: someone let go, and the balloon and its hangers-on lurched upward another several feet.
I didn't know, nor have I ever discovered, who let go first. I'm not prepared to accept that it was me. But everyone claims not to have been first. What is certain is that if we had not broken ranks, our collective weight would have brought the balloon to earth a quarter of the way down the slope as the gust subsided a few seconds later. But as I've said, there was no team, there was no plan, no agreement to be broken. No failure. So can we accept that it was right, every man for himself? Were we all happy afterward that this was a reasonable course? We never had that comfort, for there was a deeper covenant, ancient and automatic, written in our nature. Cooperation--the basis of our earliest hunting successes, the force behind our evolving capacity for language, the glue of our social cohesion. Our misery in the aftermath was proof that we knew we had failed ourselves. But letting go was in our nature too. Selfishness is also written on our hearts. This is our mammalian conflict: what to give to the others a
nd what to keep for yourself. Treading that line, keeping the others in check and being kept in check by them, is what we call morality. Hanging a few feet above the Chilterns escarpment, our crew enacted morality's ancient, irresolvable dilemma: us, or me.
Someone said me, and then there was nothing to be gained by saying us. Mostly, we are good when it makes sense. A good society is one that makes sense of being good. Suddenly, hanging there below the basket, we were a bad society, we were disintegrating. Suddenly the sensible choice was to look out for yourself. The child was not my child, and I was not going to die for it. The moment I glimpsed a body falling away--but whose?--and I felt the balloon lurch upward, the matter was settled; altruism had no place. Being good made no sense. I let go and fell, I reckon, about twelve feet. I landed heavily on my side; I got away with a bruised thigh. Around me--before or after, I'm not so sure--bodies were thumping to the ground. Jed Parry was unhurt. Toby Greene broke his ankle. Joseph Lacey, the oldest, who had done his National Service with a paratroop regiment, did no more than wind himself.
By the time I got to my feet, the balloon was fifty yards away and one man was still dangling by his rope. In John Logan, husband, father, doctor, and mountain rescue worker, the flame of altruism must have burned a little stronger. It didn't need much. When four of us let go, the balloon, with six hundred pounds shed, must have surged upward. A delay of one second would have been enough to close his options. When I stood up and saw him, he was a hundred feet up and rising, just where the ground itself was falling. He wasn't struggling, he wasn't kicking or trying to claw his way up. He hung perfectly still along the line of the rope, all his energies concentrated in his weakening grip. He was already a tiny figure, almost black against the sky. There was no sight of the boy. The balloon and its basket lifted away and westward, and the smaller Logan became, the more terrible it was, so terrible it was funny, it was a stunt, a joke, a cartoon, and a frightened laugh heaved out of my chest. For this was prepost
erous, the kind of thing that happened to Bugs Bunny or Tom or Jerry, and for an instant I thought it wasn't true, and that only I could see right through the joke, and that my utter disbelief would set reality straight and see Dr. Logan safely to the ground.
I don't know whether the others were standing or sprawling. Toby Greene was probably doubled up over his ankle. But I do remember the silence into which I laughed. No exclamations, no shouted instructions as before. Mute helplessness. He was two hundred yards away now, and perhaps three hundred feet above the ground. Our silence was a kind of acceptance, a death warrant. Or it was horrified shame, because the wind had dropped, and barely stirred against our backs. He had been on the rope so long that I began to think he might stay there until the balloon drifted down or the boy came to his senses and found the valve that released the gas, or until some beam, or god, or some other impossible cartoon thing, came and gathered him up. Even as I had that hope, we saw him slip down right to the end of the rope. And still he hung there. For two seconds, three, four. And then he let go. Even then, there was a fraction of time when he barely fell, and I still thought there was a chance that a freak physical law, a fur
ious thermal, some phenomenon no more astonishing than the one we were witnessing, would intervene and bear him up. We watched him drop. You could see the acceleration. No forgiveness, no special dispensation for flesh, or bravery, or kindness. Only ruthless gravity. And from somewhere, perhaps from him, perhaps from some indifferent crow, a thin squawk cut through the stilled air. He fell as he had hung, a stiff little black stick. I've never seen such a terrible thing as that falling man.