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Enduring Love - Ian McEwan


Bill
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One windy spring day in the Chilterns Joe Rose's calm, organized life is shattered by a ballooning accident. The afternoon, Rose reflects, could have ended in mere tragedy, but for his brief meeting with Jed Parry. Unknown to Rose, something passes between them - something that gives birth in Parry to an obsession so powerful that it will test to the limits Rose's beloved scientific rationalism, threaten the love of his wife Clarissa and drive him to the brink of murder and madness.

 

 

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  • 1 month later...
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I agree - you could never imagine one of McEwan's novels working as a pitch in a publisher's office, could you? He and William Boyd are definitely the best of the Granta 'class Of The Early Eighties' novelists. The only thing that bugged me about Enduring Love was the slightly over-researched bits about the main protagonist's job. That opening chapter is one of the most gripping I've ever read. I just watched the film and the beginning is equally disturbing/gripping, but it tales off a bit afterwards, partly because of Samatha Morton's unbearable drippiness, partly because those bits where McEwan writes so well about nothing can't be replicated on camera. Also - where is the bit where he goes to get the gun?

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  • 2 weeks later...

A fantastic book, in my opinion, and one of McEwan's very best. I can't say I wholly agree about the implausibility:these might not be the events of everyday life (thank goodness!) but then so many great books are about pushing people to extremes by putting them in extraordinary circumstances. De Clerambault's Syndrome is a medical reality and, I think, an inspired choice for novelistic treatment. Sufferers genuinely develop all-consuming infatuations with complete strangers, reading the most unlikely signals as confirmation of reciprocated love, even those that to the rest of us would be obvious rejection. McEwan only pushes the envelope of this a little by making it a homosexual love, though that has also been documented in genuine sufferers, it is simply a lot more unusual.

 

One of the elements I find most interesting is the treatment of one of McEwan's frequent themes: science and rationality versus intuition and spirituality. Novelists tend to side with the latter; if you think about it, scientific, rational-minded characters in novels are frequently the ones we mistrust. McEwan wants us to explore this by making one the narrator (unreliable?) of the novel and making his girlfriend the literary, emotive type. That's partly why there are so many sections on his scientific writing, which one poster felt were 'over-researched'. I agree they are a little self-conscious and showy, but if you look at them closely you'll see they all have a bearing on the story, its characters and psychologies.

 

I haven't seen the film, but I'm interested they took out the gun scene. Many commentators have felt this is out of place and doesn't fit the rest of the book. Personally I think it works well as emotional contrast - a surreal, farcical moment of comic relief that is almost the eye of the gathered storm; similar to the porter scene in Macbeth. Interestingly, though, this was the first chapter McEwan wrote, well before the gripping balloon incident.

 

If you like the head vs heart idea, try his earlier novel, Black Dogs. If you simply want to read the best thing he's ever written, go fo Atonement (although in fairness I haven't read Saturday yet!). Don't be misled by Amsterdam having won the Booker Prize; it's very disappointing. Good ideas but dreadfully under-developed.

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I've just finished re-reading this, and loved it all over again. Love your comments about Joe's writing, David. I do agree with you that they all had a bearing on the themes of the novel.

 

I guess I had mixed feelings about the gun scene too. I was expecting tense, fraught, delicate negotiations to resolve the confrontation, so the sudden resolution was a shock - and almost a bit of a let down. I'd be interested to know how that was resolved in the film, then, if they took a different path there.

 

I have mixed feelings about how satisfying the film would be. Would anyone who's seen it like to say any more aobut it? What did you think? One of the pleasures of the book for me was just not knowing how unreliable a narrator Joe was. I was continually guessing and shifting my opinion about whether I could believe him about his encounters with Jed - or whether Clarissa was right and Joe was somehow deluding himself about the whole thing. I think that ambiguity would be much harder to maintain in a film, as the viewer would see the encounters with Jed objectively, rather than through Joe's eyes and words.

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I agree about Amsterdam - easily the worst of his books (although I say that without having read his short stories or Saturday).

 

The film is unsettling but lacks momentum. I really had to make myself stay with it to the end. Daniel Craig looks quite a lot like McEwan, which must have been weird for McEwan. Rhys Ifans as Jed is the best thing about it by miles. I felt a lot more sorry for him than I did in the book, and didn't really warm to Craig's character at all. Also, I found it totally implausible that he could be in love with Samantha Morton's character, or that anyone could, because her acting is so appalling that she doesn't even seem real. Overall, it's got a slightly nauseating, Soho House luvvie feel to it, like it's less a film and more a Kate Moss dinner party without Kate Moss. This got in the way for me. I found myself wondering what it would have been like with a cast of unknowns.

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  • 3 months later...

With the recent film version being released, I wondered if anyone has any views on this novel? I agree with much of the critical opinion that the novel's opening is one of the most striking and engaging that I have ever read. And McEwan plays a risky game by using a narrator who is irritating and tedious at times, although this doesn't prevent our complete submersion in the events of the story.

 

However, by the end of the novel, I did feel that Clarissa's point - that had Joe been open to other possible ways of responding to the situation, the crisis might have been avoided - was valid, and yet in interviews McEwan claims that he wanted to show a rational man who was finally proved right. Do you think the novel is finally an endorsement of scientific thinking?

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  • 3 months later...

I think film versions of novels are perfectly valid, but they have to be seen as new interpretations. I have seen the film and it is different to the book. The characters are slightly different, some events have been changed while others have been left out completely. However, I do think the film is successful in its own right. The novel allows a deeper reflection on the philosophical and scientific issues that McEwan raises which I think the film doesn't allow (or, at least, I don't think so, but I had already read the novel before I saw the film so it's hard to judge). The main actors are also very good in the film, even though Daniel Craig's well-toned body perhaps wasn't exactly what I had in mind for the balding and ageing Joe Rose. But I prefer to see film versions as new works that use the original work simply as inspiration - and I have no problem with that.

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Contains Spoilers

 

I haven't seen the film yet and I have to say I was put off by the version of Joe I saw in publicity material. Half the point is his insecurity about his looks in relation to Clarissa (and didn't they change her name? What's the point of that?). I'm not entirely with you, Ade, liking adaptations that are just inspired by the original and that try to do something 'different'. If it's a well-established work with which most people are familiar, then fair enough, there's a justification in trying something new, but Enduring Love hasn't got that stature so I think it ought to be a fairly 'straight' version, like the recent Girl With a Pearl Earring.

 

I am a great fan of the book and find the examination of a psychology warped by De Clerambault's fascinating. Interestingly, as an aside, McEwan mentioned at a conference I attended once that in America two Mormons (I think) came up to him with praise for Jed's letter, feeling that he had encapsulated the joy of perfect harmony with God very convincingly. A little unnerving!

 

I'm very interested by the whole question of rationality and science versus intuition and spirituality (he looks at this very successfully in Black Dogs too). I do think Joe is entirely vindicated in his scientific stance in the end. Clarissa approaches it all from the standpoint of someone with a more 'literary' view of feelings and love (shown in the whole Keats business); in other words you can deal with it through communication, talking things over. Joe comes to a scientific understanding, though, realising that De Clerambault's knows no rationality, cannot be reasoned away. A sufferer will take even outright rejection from the object of their affections as a secret sign of reciprocated love. Either way, it's an incredibly original and modern take on the eternal novelistic theme of the love triangle. That it ends (albeit in the appendix) with Joe and Clarissa making things work is as good an outcome as could have been hoped for.

 

Strongest criticism seems to be for the chapter where Joe acquires his gun (which McEwan actually wrote first, before even the balloon incident). I actually think this works quite well and it reminds me of the comic relief offered by the porter scene in Macbeth, easing us out of the traumas we've witnessed ready for the final plunge into high emotion.

 

Great book, though. Guess I ought to add the DVD to my Amazon rental list!

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It's really that fact that Joe is, finally, vindicated in his rational viewpoint that is the disappointing part for me. I think the postmodern stance that McEwan takes early on in respect of different narratives is compelling - and this can be seen in the artistic, religious and scientific viewpoints that he explores. I liked the way these were balanced against each other. However, the fact that science is finally seen as the 'right' perspective seems rather reductive in the face of such complexity. After all, so many postmodern theorists (Foucault comes to mind) explore the way so-called 'madness' has been categorised and marginalised by the scientific revolution - and yet McEwan seems to be doing the same thing (though I too have heard about the Americans who found Jed's letters beautiful and uplifting and also found that a little unsettling). I was disappointed when I heard McEwan discussing the book as 'in praise of rationality' as this took away its power for me. Rather, I see it as 'in praise of plurality and its complexity' - a reading that works against its author, but I'm willing to champion it. If we are to be dictated to by science, then I do think we lose something (perhaps I sound too much like Clarissa) and this is Joe's major weakness. I see that Jed is dangerous, but he bears worrying similarities to Joe in his obsessional nature and surely Clarissa's balance and calm is infinitely preferable? And having to buy a gun to deal with the situation - how mindlessly macho can you get? It works as comedy and I like the way McEwan subverts the classic thriller genre - but I can't take it seriously that he admires Joe at this point.

 

And on that point, I also do take issue with the representation of the women in the book. Both Clarissa and Jean Logan seem to be presented at times as irrational, slightly hysterical and, finally, downright wrong. Chapter 9, where Jed pretends to be Clarissa, shows just how limited his perspective is (she's not like that at all in her own letter). I know McEwan then tried to use a female narrator in Atonement, but that doesn't negate Joe's lack of understanding in this novel - and I'll be charitable and assume it is Joe, not McEwan himself (a classic fault, but I do find it hard to distinguish the two).

 

 

So, yes I agree a fascinating book - but a flawed one for me. And you'll probably hate the DVD, David, but I await your comments with interest!

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More Spoilers!

 

Those are interesting thoughts, Ade, and I see exactly where you're coming from. It's not that I disagree with your general tenor about the potential dangers of scientific thought and the need for pluralistic approaches, more that I sympathise with McEwan's thesis about literature. When you think about it, in most literature intuition is the leading force proven to be right and science/rationalism is treated with suspicion (excepting many - though far from all - crime novels, such as Holmes' deductive reasoning). That's hardly surprising, given that literature is the realm of the imagination and emotional; writers are bound to side more with that aspect of the psyche. I'm not sure he intends the outcome of the book to suggest that in all cases rationalism should be pre-eminent, rather that he offers a counterweight to the huge bias exhibited by the bulk of literature.

 

I don't think he admires Joe - indeed, I think it's crucial Joe is very flawed. For one thing, that helps to generate our fears about the unreliable narrator, so that we really don't know whether to back his interpretations or not until the very end. For another, it is a testament to the benefits of rationalism that it wins out, in spite of being practised by a man about whom we have our doubts.

 

There are, as you say, some fascinating parallels between Joe and Jed, and I think that drifts into other areas that McEwan is trying to investigate, such as the very nature of love itself and where we might draw the line between 'acceptable' love and 'tainted' love - indeed, self-love, spiritual love etc. It's in areas such as this that for me he ensures the book is not some scientific treatise but contains fascinating philosophical and emotional issues too.

 

The question of the women is interesting. The only person who comes out of the entire thing well is Logan, so I don't necessarily see a male/female division. Clarissa may ultimately turn out to be wrong, but at various junctures throughout the book we wonder if she's right and in this respect she almost becomes our representative in the novel, asking questions that we may be thinking ourselves. Joe is, after all, challenging our own likely bias. Jean Logan's reaction is, I think, understandable given the circumstances of grief and the apparent 'evidence'. If I were to criticise the gender aspects of the book it would sooner be over the fact that it's conveniently stereotypical that the woman is the emotional/intuitive one whilst the man's rational, but since he's already pushing at gender issues with Jed's infatuation (De Clerambault's is very rarely homosexual in nature) it's perhaps excusable not to twist that aspect too.

 

So many people aren't happy with the gun bit! I know I'm in the minority here, but it feels genuine to me that after every avenue he's tried for help has been exhausted he feels boxed in and desperate, knowing the only person he can rely on is himself. In that condition he perhaps almost regresses to a fundamental state (he's already considered questions of evolution in his scientific writing, so I feel we're being led to this) and so there the male pre-programming takes over and violence is the only resort.

 

I'll definitely get that DVD now! I've enjoyed the discussion (more to come...?) so thanks, Ade.

 

Edit: just added it to my rental list at Amazon, so should get it soon. :) (Or will that be :mad:? We shall see!)

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  • 4 weeks later...

:o

Oh dear! I've had it for a week or so now, but have been watching other DVDs because I've just not felt in the right mood to watch it! There has to be some deep, buried psychological fear of disappointment lurking in there, eh? I will watch it soon, Ade, and get right back to you!

 

(I blame the Amazon policy that you can keep the DVDs as long as you want! Of course, ordinarily I think that's brilliant, but here it's obviously awful!)

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I know the feeling - life so short and so much to do. And this could well be a waste of 90 minutes for you.

 

On this theme, though, I seem to recall a time when our number of posts was about equal. How on earth have you reached over 700?! Have you been pressing lots of blank replies?? ;)

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Damn! You've sussed me out! ;)

 

I've reflected on this myself, Ade, since I remember our posting on the 'When is a member not a member thread' around that time.

 

From what I've noticed, you seem to be a weekend poster - doubtless far too busy during the week! I tend to check in a great deal and a lot of the posts have clocked up in the Anything But Books section - often fairly inconsequential in nature.

 

It's surprised me how they've stacked up, but all totally legit - definitely no hacking into the BGO mainframe and cranking up my tally. No, no...absolutely not.

 

:cool:

 

Anyway, will definitely be adding yet another to the tally with a post on the Enduring Love DVD soon!

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I've had the misfortune to have a stalker, who either had de Clerambault's or something approaching it. I read the book a year before the stalking started, and suddenly realised that my stalker's behaviour was very familiar indeed. So I have to say that the novel works for me as a piece of trad. realism in that regard; one wonders if McEwan has had a similar experience himself. The intellectual flaws being pointed up here are interesting, however - this is very much the problem with lots of postmodern narrative: when it's not kneeling at the altar of science it's being flippant.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Finally watched the film! :D

 

(Another spoiler alert!)

 

Actually, I really rather liked it, which came as a surprise since, as Ade has noted, it's very different from the book in many ways. The DVD extras included McEwan talking about the adaptation and explaining how any screenplay adapted from a book has to take a demolition ball to the original and build again from the ground up, and whilst he's happy to do that himself to others' work, he can't do it to his own, so he was pleased to see another writer do it. He sounded a little wistful, but I think there was a lot about it he liked.

 

I could see the need for many of the changes they made. Joe's scientific writing could hardly be transferred to the screen, so it was logical to make him a university tutor, but that then lost his insecurity about having missed his chance to be a 'real' scientist. This loss is compounded by having him played by dishy Dan Craig (even worse now we'll be seeing him as Bond!) and playing up the closeness between Joe and 'Claire', thereby losing his insecurity about the relationship. I thought that was fairly important in laying the ground for what happens, as well as for creating parallels between Jed and Joe.

 

What is also lost is our doubting whether Joe has got it right after all, which I suppose also follows on from the insecurity. The panic, for instance, of when he wonders if Jed had followed him to the library, just seeing a flash of shoe, is quite a loss to the psychological tension.

 

I could see the necessity of introducing characters with whom they could talk, since that has to be the lifeblood of any screenplay, though inevitably that loses the tense claustrophobia we feel in the book and Joe's complete isolation. Interestingly, in the deleted scenes they have one of the elements I thought they really should have kept: Joe going to the police. It seems a logical step (therefore in tune with Joe's character) and I'm surprised they removed it.

 

Daniel Craig was certainly very good, though, and I thought he captured Joe's decline effectively. Rhys Ifans was superb as Jed, managing to convey his pain and confusion as well as the sense of psychosis and danger. I didn't like their relocating him to a dingy flat, rather than the very comforatable existence Jed has in the novel - that was too easy a stereotype and presumably only done to save explanation. I also didn't like the kiss betweeen him and Joe in the final confrontation: I actually think that's more sensationalist than the infamous gun sequence! It also lost the wonderful moment of Jed turning the knife on himself and asking Joe's forgiveness after the attempted murder in the restaurant, but I guess they thought this was too great a psycholgical complexity for a film.

 

I did enjoy the conversations between Joe and Jed, though. They went to the very heart of what McEwan was writing and there was some really thoughtful interchange that gave great depth to Jed's character. Especially the conversation in the cafe. I also liked the fact there was an ongoing thread on the intellectual concept of what love is: biological or something more, which managed to keep some of McEwan's overarching thought process.

 

So, I'm prepared to reassess my doubts about this sort of adaptation, Ade! It was well worth it.

 

:)

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  • 3 years later...

Hi all - I have seen threads on Atonement, Saturday and On Chesil Beach but none on my own favourite McEwan novel Enduring Love, so decided to add one.

 

I absolutely love this book. The book starts with the most vivid and terrifying opening sequence of events - McEwen’s writing here is just brilliant and I hardly dared to breathe until the event in question came to its shocking conclusion, and even for the first chapter alone, this novel is worth reading.

 

So to introduce you to the story, in the first chapter we meet Joe Rose, a pragmatic Science journalist, and his wife Clarissa who are having a picnic in an idyllic setting in the English countryside. However on that day, along with some other random bystanders, they witness a terrifying event, one in which they try to intervene and prevent but ultimately fail in doing so.

 

One of the bystanders who along with Joe, tries to intervene that day is a man called Jed Parry. Jed believing a mutual connection has passed between him and Joe that day becomes terrifyingly obsessed with Joe. McEwen illustrates the characters brilliantly - capturing the paranoia and sheer anger of Joe as Jed's behaviour gets weirder and stranger – along with the frustration Joe feels as a scientist trying to practically find reason for Jed’s irrational obsession. Jed Perry is also one of the most memorable characters I have had the pleasure to be introduced to in a novel - as we watch him try to justify his stalking/obsessional behaviour towards Joe....to the point where we even begin to question Joe's perception of the situation!

 

There are no many themes to this novel....Joe's rationality vs. Jed's fixation, the exploration of the psychological disorder de Clerambault's syndrome, how one single event can change the lives of many....but for me it’s a superbly written, gripping psychological thriller that also makes us question what really is....enduring love. I adored the novel and would love to hear others views.

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