Author: Ian McEwan
Genres: British Literature, Contemporary Fiction
Setting: United Kingdom
James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee for Fiction (1997)
I read this for the following challenges: 2014 Book-To-Movie Challenge and 2014 Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge. Check out my progress for this year’s reading challenges here.
I have been interested in reading books about mental illness recently. There are a lot of things I do not understand but would like to understand about those who suffer from these illnesses. When I joined the 2014 Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge, this is one of the books that I listed down to read. One of the characters from this book suffers from de Clerambault’s syndrome.
Another reason why I read this was because I wanted to read something from Ian McEwan. I have never read any book from him. I am aware of his book Atonement though and I hope to read this next.
I have never experienced reading a book that immediately filled me with a sense of foreboding. The beginning chapter of Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love was arresting and thrilling. It starts off pretty innocently: two lovers having a picnic in an idyllic setting. Then the story makes a complete 180-degree turn. What started off as a beautiful and calm day ends up in tragedy. A hot air balloon appears in the sky, obviously in trouble as the wind’s implacable strength raises the balloon up and tosses it around. A man is being dragged with it and a boy is inside the basket. Several men, including Joe Rose, try to hold the balloon down but to no avail. You know something bad will happen and it did. A man dies in his efforts to save someone. This prelude to the novel becomes an uncompromising element for the grim things to come. One of the men who tried to help was Jed Parry. That chance encounter between the Joe and Jed gives birth to a delusional attachment and obsession that will prove destructive not only to Joe but also in his relationship with his wife, Clarissa. Life can change in an instant indeed.
Jed Parry suffers from de Clerambault’s syndrome or erotomania. Someone who suffers from erotomania fervently believes that someone is in love with him/her.
Erotomania is a type of delusion in which the affected person believes that another person, usually a stranger, high-status or famous person, is in love with him or her. The illness often occurs during psychosis, especially in patients with schizophrenia, delusional disorder or bipolar mania. During an erotomanic episode, the patient believes that a secret admirer is declaring his or her affection to the patient, often by special glances, signals, telepathy, or messages through the media. Usually the patient then returns the perceived affection by means of letters, phone calls, gifts, and visits to the unwitting recipient. Even though these advances are unexpected and often unwanted, any denial of affection by the object of this delusional love is dismissed by the patient as a ploy to conceal the forbidden love from the rest of the world. (Source)
His delusions are coupled with personal religious beliefs that are overly zealous. In a series of letters, Jed tells Joe how inevitable their meeting was and how they were meant to be with each other. Aside from Jed’s affections and delusional beliefs about Joe’s motives, Jed also tries to convince Joe to turn to God. Jed becomes a rather frightening entity in the story not because he was violent but because his presence becomes constantly disturbing. He starts to stalk Joe, calls him regularly and writes him letters. He doesn’t yield even if Joe dismisses him. We later find out what stalking and obsession can do to people – how it destroys their lives and even their relations with their loved ones. Joe Rose who has rationalized his way into his many written science articles suddenly feels trapped and confused. He is scared for his life as well as Clarissa’s. The book calls your attention to the dark and haunted mind of a disturbed man. Jed looks rather pitiful and harmless but when you read his letters to Joe, you feel uneasy. You can’t help but expect Jed to turn violent as Joe tries to ignore and avoid him. You keep asking questions. You keep anticipating that worse things will happen. And that’s the genius behind this book – you never know where the story is headed.
That the plot should be drawn out so well and the complexities of the characters be portrayed with beautiful writing is a tribute to the author, Ian McEwan. There are some scientific discussions within the book but it never felt boring or monotonous. He has the uncanny way of making the complex understandable and he wrote these things beautifully. They were quite interesting actually but a little disorienting. Not to blame the author, but perhaps my own mind was at fault. There were some things I absorbed immediately but there were some that I had to re-read in order to grasp what was being said. Surely the author can’t be faulted as many of his works have been praised countless times.
Enduring Love spews ambiguities and contradictions, and gives you an impression of a reality that is undoubtedly twisted, yet Ian McEwan has the ability to use words to portray a tale of haunting qualities that intermingles with the complexities of the characters’ circumstances and the normality of their lives. It is a gripping and utterly riveting book that will make you want to keep turning pages and will keep you guessing until the end.
- Readers beware! The appendix provides a case report on erotomania but it is fictional. As you will read in this article, quite a few people thought that it was an actual published case report. If that interested you, you might want to read this article from The Guardian where Ian McEwan admits to the case report as being fictional.
- Ian McEwan has been nominated for the Man Booker prize six times to date, winning the Prize for Amsterdam in 1998. (Source)
- Ian McEwan enjoys long walks (don’t we all?). “Usually, he walks slightly ahead of a companion, and his knapsack contains two stainless-steel cups and a very good bottle of wine.” (Source) Want to know more about the author? Read this.
- The Cement Garden (1978) was Ian McEwan’s first novel and First Love, Last Rites (1975) was his first collection of short stories. It won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1976.
- Some of the awards he received are the Jerusalem Prize in 2012, British Book Awards Book and Author of the Year Award in 2008 for On Chesil Beach, and National Book Critics’ Circle Fiction Award in 2003 for Atonement.
THE MOVIE: The opening sequence for the movie, like the book, was brilliantly executed- suspenseful and downright scary. The ‘silence’ in the beginning scenes were unsettling. The movie was… how do I say this… more violent than the book. The frustrations felt by Joe (played by Daniel Craig) seemingly radiate in physical ways. Jed is consumed by his obsession and the intensity of some scenes can make your hairs stand on end. Rhys Ifans performed his character well. I can’t help but notice how rather pitiful he looks but I can’t also shake off the feeling of him turning violent with a snap of a finger. The use of ‘quiet’ scenes have been used in the right places and it gave more impact to the whole movie, especially the balloon scene in the beginning.
February 10, 2014 at 7:21 pm
I’ve not read this book. McEwan and I don’t always agree. I either love him or hate him. His earlier work does appeal to me more though. Love your Five Things section
February 11, 2014 at 5:54 pm
Thank you, Tanya. This is my first book from him and I’m thinking of reading Atonement next.
February 11, 2014 at 10:29 pm
I liked Atonement a lot and can recommend it.
February 12, 2014 at 5:52 pm
More reason to read it then ;) Thank you!
February 10, 2014 at 10:20 pm
I’ ve never heard of erotomania before. I would have thought it was plain and simple narcissism. Sounds like an interesting book, but so sad. Seems like most of Ian McEwan’s books are sad.
February 11, 2014 at 5:56 pm
I have not read any other books from him but I enjoyed reading this. Not perfect and a little confusing though. The movie was strange and creepy. I really want to check out Atonement in the future.
February 11, 2014 at 11:09 pm
I picked up a copy of this a couple of years ago, and still haven’t gotten to it. I loved Atonement, pretty much hated On Chesil Beach… but the premise of Enduring Love made me think it would appeal to me. Great review!
February 12, 2014 at 6:06 pm
Thank you so much, Lisa. I’m now more convinced to read Atonement soon. It should have been my first book from Ian McEwan but this intrigued me more. Perhaps I should have started with Atonement as many have praised it ;)
February 13, 2014 at 11:15 pm
Hm, this is a fascinating read! I appreciate the fact that McEwan changed it up and had a man obsessed with another man as opposed to what is more often seen with erotomania (a young woman obsessed with an older man).
Did you feel that the book led you to feel any empathy or understanding for Jed? Obviously his obsession would be frightening for Joe, I am just interested if we get a well-rounded view of Jed.
February 17, 2014 at 5:50 pm
I wasn’t really familiar with de Clerambault’s syndrome before reading this book so I went ahead and read more about it. I have to agree with your comment about Ian McEwan adding a little twist (a man instead of a woman) to the story.
That’s a really great question you asked about Jed. I did feel empathy for him. His circumstances might have contributed to his illness, in my opinion. Also, he was so alone and lonely.
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February 15, 2014 at 10:35 pm
This is one of my favourite books of all time. The balloon sequence is stunningly written and the whole thing is so sensitively handled. The movie adaptation gets the spirit of the book.
February 17, 2014 at 5:40 pm
You’re absolutely right about the balloon sequence! Ian McEwan has written a really good book. I’m glad to meet someone who also loved the book! :)
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