Jill MacLean Book Talk - Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Years ago, I read Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and remember throwing the book against the wall because I’d been deeply invested in it and was infuriated by the ending, by the feeling that I’d been played for a fool. The details of the ending? Gone. The only other book I recall tossing (literally), and again it was years ago, was Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room. While I can see now the necessity for her novel, given the times, back then I was incensed that she treated her male characters so unfairly, so flatly.

To return to McEwan. I’ve just finished Enduring Love, his sixth novel, and I’m in awe of his sentences, his intelligence and knowledge, his compelling, not always likeable characters.

Control. Such masterly control of structure, of gradual revelations and varying points of view. The crucial first scene – I’d love to know how that emerged, if McEwan does nine-tenths of the work in his head before he goes near the computer.

Point of view (unless omniscient) determines what the writer can or cannot enlarge upon – I became very aware of this in my medieval novel. McEwan’s choice of a scientific journalist for his main character, Joe, allows him plentiful, playful scope, while Jed’s obsessive love for Joe pushes God stage-front. The object of an obsession becomes himself obsessed, Joe’s relationship with his lover Clarissa unravels and, in a darkly comic scene, he acquires a gun.

The title also is masterly. To my mind, the fact that Joe and Clarissa never had serious “rows” is a red flag that foretells the breakdown of their relationship – can you enter, even partially, the reality of the other and endure love’s inevitable ups and downs if the relationship isn’t tested in conflict? As for Jed’s love, whether it’s a syndrome in DSM or an expression of the divine, it’s unendurable for its recipient.

McEwan can be something of a trickster, as Appendix I of Enduring Love attests. Should I re-read Atonement? I might love the ending.

Are there infuriating books you’ve thrown at the wall?