Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Despite Ian McEwan’s apparent success in the literary and film worlds, I’ve never read any of their novels. I do veer towards literary fiction, but McEwan was never on my radar. Until “Matt”, a staff member at my nearest public library branch chose it for one of their Staff Picks last month. I typically review newer, about-to-be-published books here, but every once in awhile a backlist is worth a review. This is one of them.

So that’s how I came across this slim, unassuming novel. The title suggests romance. It’s not. (Well… not a traditional romance anyway.) The cover, an image of a hot air balloon in a clear sky, suggests flights of fancy, a pleasant day out in nature. It’s not. (So easily do we forget that nature is not the sanguine overlord as we anthropomorphize it to be. If it were a being it would be a vicious beast, not a nurturing mother.) But, something encouraged me to slide it off the shelf and turn it over for the synopsis.

Before reading further, you must know I enjoy perusing the library, literally just meandering the stacks and sliding interesting books into my arms. Going to the library is better than midnight shopping on Amazon, better than a trip to my local bookstore even — because it’s FREE! I can load up my bag and literally be the richer for it.

The words “hot air balloon accident” and “obsession” caught my eye. Hints of a moral and mental disintegration. Hmm. Intrigued. “Matt’s” pick did not disappoint. I was hooked from the first three pages and I could not rest until Joe’s dilemma had been resolved somehow.

I prepared myself for a hideous ending. I got it.

Reader, if you enjoy unreliable narrators, epistemological head twists, and stories of encounters with the utter strangeness of life, Enduring Love has it. From the start the story is a deluge, an unstoppable interior pouring of thoughts expressed in sharp, authentic prose. Joe is the narrator, a witness and involuntary participant in the hot air balloon incident. A survivor, you might say. But it is what happens afterward that is truly disturbing. Reader, you might be tempted to exclaim, “How many odd things can happen to one person?” But, there is where McEwan’s skill lies, the oddness of it all is entirely believable. Things like this do happen, all the time. Just watch the news. And what happens after with Jed Parry? That too is as mundane as the Monday evening edition. (I won’t recount the plot details since this is an older novel. Find it here.)

The thing that draws us into this novel is this: We might surmise that our actions in the face of such tragedy and dissonance might be different, but Joe’s authenticity as a human being (some brilliant character development on McEwan’s part) forces us to consider that we might feel the same, even if we might react the same way. (There is so much to unpack in this novel, this review is just one possible view of the thing.) Who is mad and who is sane here becomes confused. What constitutes madness and sanity are questions left unanswered. Reader, you’ll wonder where the line between the two exists — if it exists.

At the end of this you might find yourself shying away from social interaction, feeling a bit of anxiety about what someone at the grocery store might want of you if they smile at you. You might stop smiling back for awhile. Most of us have a tinge of social anxiety; this novel reminds me why that can be a good thing. It also made me a tad more paranoid than I usually am about whether I should leave my blinds open or not.

I’ll leave it at that. Read this novel. Gorgeous prose and a compelling plot propel this novel forward inexorably (much like the wind behind a hot air balloon…) Recognizable characters leave the sensation of voyeuristic experience; Reader, you’ll have a front seat view of a journey to madness.

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