Book review / Spilt personalities

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan, Jonathan Cape, pounds 15.99

Ian McEwan is always described as writing about gore and nastiness, perverse philosophies, machismo metaphysics - and very fed up he must get with this, too. Just because he once wrote a story about things that go bump in bell-jars doesn't mean he should be typecast for ever as baddish and laddish. In fact, his novels are sheep in wolves' clothing.

Under their dark, bristling, thrillerish surfaces lurk explorations of the way we love now: men and women mostly, but parents and children too. His world appears a naturalistic one, but is also metaphorical, as in a romance. He illuminates inner states as well as outer ones, though his landscapes are always realistic and noir-ish enough to satisfy the butchest of readers.

A constant image recurring in his work is the man-woman couple so tightly tangled together and at the same time so confused about sexual difference that an act of violence by a third party is required to allow the protagonists to separate. In The Comfort of Strangers, this was achieved through grisly sadistic ritual and in Black Dogs through the discovery of a particularly beastly Nazi torture. The problems of these couples are exacerbated by their belief in gender as an essential characteristic. The narrator of The Comfort of Strangers reflects sadly on men's ancient desire to hurt and women's to be hurt. Black Dogs divides the sexes into rational men and mystical women. No wonder huge explosions of anger, projected outside on the villains of the piece, suddenly blow everything up in the air.

In Enduring Love, which re-explores these classic themes, what goes up in the air is a balloon. The dramatic opening chapter, which introduces all the elements of the plot, works like a movie. It cuts sharply from scene to scene, with abrupt changes of focus and perspective, letting us see the retakes in slow motion. Joe Rose and his wife Clarissa Mellon are celebrating their reunion after a six-week separation occasioned by Clarissa's research on Keats. Picnicking in the Chilterns, they witness a ballooning accident which results in a man's death.

Four men have raced to the rescue, Joe among them, without success. The resulting tragedy is exacerbated for Joe by the fact that another of the would-be rescuers, Jed Parry, turns out to be a potentially dangerous stalker whose infatuation with Joe threatens his relationship with Clarissa, their love for each other, and their lives as well.

The novel operates on one level as a thriller of hunt and be hunted. As Joe fights Clarissa's criticisms of the way he's coping with this disturbing intruder, and with the suspicions of the police that he is disturbed himself, it also makes forays into psychological suspense. Enduring Love explores the either/or thinking that Charlotte Bronte would have recognised. It pits science against madness, man against woman, reason against intuition, rationality against religion, passion against sanity, love against hate. Joe thrashes around in the midst of all these. He is a successful science journalist who has given up a career in research for the rewards of popular books. He feels that he ought to be able to understand Jed Parry, sort him out and see him off - but he can't. Not for quite a while.

One of the problems is that Jed's homoerotic obsession with Joe is sublimated into the language of religious devotion. He believes he has been chosen by God to draw Joe to the everlasting bliss of the Father's arms. Joe can't see it this way. Having done his homework, he concludes that Jed is suffering from what psychologists have labelled de Clerambault's syndrome. So they can't communicate with each other, because they talk different languages!

Jed represses his homosexual urges and Joe denies that he has any. Jed's love for God and for Joe is presented as the stuff of purest craziness: belief in something that isn't there. Joe has to face the fact that he doesn't, for all his scientific approach to life, understand loving a woman either. It's a skill he's taken for granted. He can't talk to Clarissa about what's happening, partly because she's too busy and tired, partly because she begins to suspect him of being fascinated by Jed. Their relationship, at first apparently so trusting, intimate and strong, shatters under the impact of their inability to support each other.

The novel reaches a satisfyingly violent denouement after a lovely comic set piece on how to buy a gun from braindead hippies wrecked on too much dope, bad karma and burnt toast. The princess is rescued from the dragon, even if she goes on criticising the prince for insisting on doing it his way.

I decided that everything really was Clarissa's fault. If authors are still allowed intentions, I think McEwan meant us to be sympathetic to her. But to me she came across as the kind of radical feminist who believes that womanliness will save the world, that women are morally superior to men, that men can't understand feelings. Boy, are those women trouble. They just don't stand by their men.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Voices
The number of children in relative income poverty is currently 2.3 million in the UK
voices

Environment
A Brazilian wandering spider
natureIt's worth knowing for next time one appears in your bananas
Life and Style
Time and Oak have developed a product that allows drinkers to customise the flavour and improve the quality of cheaper whiskey
food + drink

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Year 5 Teacher

    £80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

    Software Developer

    £35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

    Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

    £35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

    Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past