Reviewer: Inspirational Reads
Joe and his wife are on a romantic picnic when a hot air balloon becomes untethered with a lone boy in it. Joe and a number of other onlookers rush to assist; the boy lives but one of the rescuers does not. It is at this event that Joe meets Jed Parry, one of the other rescuers and with one shared glance Jed begins an obsession with Joe that dramatically alters both their lives.
The story is told from Joe’s perspective, recalling the events set off by the ballooning tragedy. And from the outset Joe makes us aware of this impending “something”, that this event is where everything spirals out from. The tension is there from the beginning. We become aware of Jed Parry’s obsession almost immediately as Joe receives a phone call from him that very night. And McEwan only ups the ante from there.
Joe views himself as a scientist, his profession as a science writer only came about through self-perceived failure. It is this analytical nature that Joe brings to bear on Parry’s obsession. His own compulsion to know why this is happening, what he can do to stop it, what he needs to do to keep himself and his wife safe, becomes manic in its intensity, mirroring Parry’s lovesick madness. Joe’s own crazed behaviour impacts his marriage and soon the reader too begins to doubt that everything is right with Joe himself.
This is my first Ian McEwan read, and it’s a fantastic introduction to a great writer. There is a lot going on here story wise. There are a number of sub-plots circulating around this one event other than the stalking of Joe by Parry. The second half of the book meanders a bit in trying to draw all these together. What doesn’t suffer is the writing. McEwan uses Joe’s all-consuming scrutiny to put forth outstanding passages, such as:
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, and 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.
Although this was my first McEwan, it was the third in a line of contemporary writers that had a similar feel; an intelligent person suffers a major event, usually tragic and the story goes on to show the impact of this event with the protagonist introspectively analysing their actions, the actions of those around them and the associated emotions. Usually some form of violence is needed to bring about the climax. Enduring Love did not suffer in comparison, this was the best of the bunch and to be fair I enjoyed every one and the writing was impeccable for all, (just for interest’s sake the other two are Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved, and her husband Paul Auster’s Invisible), it just suffered for it’s similarity. And it also sounds like a majority of McEwan’s work is along these lines. This will in no way stop me from reading more, I just won’t be going through all of his (or Hustvedt’s or Auster’s) one after the other.
This is a cracking story with excellent writing. There is also a movie adaptation staring Daniel Craig and Rhys Ifans which will be interesting to check out despite it’s 6.4/10 rating on IMDB. But for the book itself, I recommend it and rate it 4/5.