Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

enduring1Considered by many critics to be the novel that should have won Ian McEwan the Booker Prize, Enduring Love is an extraordinary exploration of love, faith, and obsession, the story of two delicately ordered lives thrown out of balance by a desperate, deranged passion.

Joe Rose is a scientist by training and a science writer by trade. Though he has a secure, loving relationship with his wife, Clarissa, the stillborn specter of the scientific career he might have had still haunts him. Clarissa also has her ghosts—those of the children a medical mishap has left her unable to bear.

Despite these disappointments, they have established a careful emotional equilibrium between themselves and their professional lives. But while hiking through the Chiltern Hills one windy spring afternoon, Joe and Clarissa become unscripted players in a hot-air balloon tragedy that leaves one would-be rescuer dead and saddles Joe with the ardent and unwanted attentions of a disturbed young man.

(From the publisher.)

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Book Reviews 
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.
Rosemary Dinnage – New York Review of Books

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A vibrant and unsettling [novel that] reminds us that normal behavior conceals but does not banish unsavory truths. 
Sven Birkets – New York Times Book Review

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—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 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 otherwise.

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.
Elizabeth Judd – Salon

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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.
Library Journal

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A sad, chilling, precise exploration of deranged love. Joe Rose, a middle-aged science writer, takes his wife Clarissa to London’s Hampstead Heath for a picnic—and stumbles into a tragedy when a man and his young grandson, on a jaunt by balloon, get into serious trouble. Joe is among the bystanders who race to seize the balloon, which is damaged, close to the ground, and being pushed by high winds toward a precipice. One of the rescuers dies. In the aftermath, Joe exchanges words with Jed Parry, a deeply disturbed young man among those who came rushing to help. Isolated, independently wealthy, Parry has attempted to suppress his homosexual inclinations by immersing himself in a fervent and very personal version of Christianity. Parry quickly fixates on Joe, and, deciding that he is meant to be the means by which Joe, a nonbeliever, will be brought back to God, Parry begins haunting him. He shadows Joe’s movements around London, loiters outside his apartment, constantly leaves messages and letters. It’s not only God’s love that Parry believes he’s carrying; he’s also, in a confused and only partially conscious manner, convinced that Joe loves him and knows everything about him. Joe’s increasingly angry attempts to rid himself of Parry seem to the obsessed man only another test of his devotion, while Joe and Clarissa’s marriage begins to crumble under the strain, as do their careers. Finally, a desperate Parry decides he must get rid of Clarissa and, possibly, even Joe himself. In lesser hands, the story might be overwrought and unbelievable, but McEwan’s terse, lucid prose and sure grasp of character give resonance to this superb anatomy of obsession and exploration of the mind under extreme circumstance. Painful and powerful work by one of England’s best novelists. 
Kirkus Reviews

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1. Which is the enduring love the title refers to?

2. Look carefully at the first chapter and talk about the way in which it holds the promise of the whole novel.

3. The narrator says, “I’m lingering in the prior moment because it was a time when other outcomes were still possible” (page 2). Discuss this as a theme throughout the novel.

4. How does science infuse this story? Discuss the different theories described and explained and their importance to this novel.

5. The author writes of “… morality’s ancient, irresolvable dilemma: us, or me” (page 15) in relation to the balloon accident. Does this apply to other situations in the novel as well?

6. Joe describes how Clarissa views the trend in science toward neo-Darwinism, evolutionary psychology, and genetics as “rationalism gone berserk, ” and adds that she thought “everything was being stripped down… and in the process some larger meaning was lost” (page 75). Discuss this as a theme in the novel.

7. Did you think at the beginning that Joe and Clarissa’s relationship would reach the crisis point it did? Did you think that Joe and Clarissa’s love would endure? At different points, what made you think so?

8. In chapter nine, the author switches from first-person to third-person point of view, where the reader is in Clarissa’s head as imagined by Joe. Talk about this unusual choice. What does it add to your understanding of Joe? Of Clarissa?

9. Did you doubt Joe, as Clarissa and others did? Did the author want you to?

10. In responding to Jean Logan’s theory of her husband’s tryst, Joe says,”But you can’t know this… it’s so particular, so elaborate. It’s just a hypothesis. You can’t let yourself believe in it” (page 132). Discuss the irony of Joe’s remembering, moments later, what he’s read about de Clerambault’s syndrome.

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11. At the moment before Clarissa first tells him it’s over between them, Joe thinks about love, about how it “generates its own reserves.” About how “conflicts, like living organisms, had a natural lifespan” (page 155). Later he notes that “… sustained stress is corrosive of feeling. It’s the great deadener” (page 231). In light of what happens in this novel, in what ways is Joe right or wrong about this?

12. In both Amsterdam and Enduring Love, characters at a police station have faulty memories of events. Talk about the role of unreliable perceptions in this novel.

13. “It’s like in banks. You never say money. Or in funeral parlors, no one says dead” (page 205). Though this is not a comic novel, the author uses observational humor throughout. Talk about other examples of humor in the novel.

14. The novel ends with the children and the river. What is the author saying with this choice?

15. In the appendixes, we’re reminded (with Jed’s letter) that “it is not always easy to accept that one of our most valued experiences may merge into psychopathology” (page 259). Is this true in your experience?

16. Why did the author choose to let us know that Joe and Clarissa reconciled (and adopted a child) with a line in a case study in the appendix?

Questions issued by publisher – http://www.litlovers.com/

Enduring Love Trailer

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