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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

    £34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

    Developer - WinForms, C#

    £280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform