Book Review: Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan - Header

After I read Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, a book which in theory is one of the most famous tales involving a balloon, only to discover it actually doesn’t, I turned to social media to find me a true lighter than air tale. A few people suggested Mike Kendrick’s biography Thursday’s Child (which I’d already read), but mainly, people just pointed me towards Enduring Love by Ian McEwan.

I don’t exactly know why, but in my mind I had this idea of Enduring Love being a very old fashioned tale, maybe it’s the word “enduring” and the slow, step back from life it invokes when you hear it, but there was something that just made me feel cold towards the book. Before I’d even turned a page I didn’t expect to enjoy it and that niggling though had actually kept it in my “to read” pile longer than it otherwise would have.

UP (Movie) - Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

The book certainly features a balloon, and while gas and not hot air, it’s near enough. It arrives in the opening pages and that’s when the first problem arise. As it turned out Enduring Love is actually a very scientific book, it’s story is born out of psychology and psychiatry and you can tell that McEwan has spent a lot of time researching, talking and pinpointing the finer details needed to make sure the theme of his book runs true. Except he ignored the physics of flight. It’s the same problem I had with the movie UP, the balloon in Enduring Love is capable of impossible feats. It hangs, becalmed, at 500ft before being stuck by 70 mile an hour gusts on the surface. That just can’t happen, that’s like pouring cold water into a bath and it magically turning warm when you jump in!

The balloon is the set up though to the main story and so my issues with the meteorological errors were quickly forgotten as the balloon lay deflated somewhere off the page and in fact, the balloon could have been anything, it’s not pivotal to the story in any way, McEwan simply borrows it to collide the characters together and get the story moving. It’s the starting gun and nothing more.

Ian McEwan (Author) - Enduring Love

The actual race is intriguing but puzzling. Too often I sat there reading it, wondering where I was being taken. Who the focus should be falling on. I felt that the book was born out of an idea, a moment of scientific interest, that had grabbed McEwan but he didn’t know how to handle it. That in an attempt to create more than a simple, repetitive one dimensional story he had cast the net wider, introduced other ideas and characters, loosely tied back to the original, but ultimately never feeling fulfilling enough. Characters are brought in and never expanded, side plots arrive and then are discarded and it was hugely frustrating because all too often, the extras, the background noise, was as interesting, if not more so, than the leaders who just repeated the same obsessive story.

I need to say though that it’s through McEwan’s writing that my dislike to the main characters and their interweaving story was born. He describes everything in frustratingly clear detail and so the longer, and more annoying, the main arc of the story became, the stronger my feelings of hatred and disgust also became. It actually got to the point that as I read, once again, about the stifling coming together of the main characters, I truly sighed inside and just wanted to scream “please just leave him alone” at the pages in front of me!

Whilst my feelings towards the actual plot swung wildly from finding it horribly aggravating to charmingly frustrating to entertainingly enjoyable, and I found McEwan’s writing style is easy to read, meticulously detailed and paced with a natural rhythm and flow, I constantly had huge problems placing the time line of the book. The actual passage of time in the plot was never clear. The age of the characters and the passing of weeks, months or even years never defined, and I’m still lost and perplexed by it now. The story, in my mind (potential harking back to my pre-reading prejudice) was of a time removed, a post war era where streets were cobbled, London muted and life revolved a few paces behind today. The internet doesn’t exist, computers never appear, but they’ll make a call on a mobile phone, shattering the image in my head. The book has no digital knowledge and so any step towards modern life feels wrong. It’s academic: wooden and warm, slow and exact. It’s not instant and binary, and yet, too often it’d cloud everything by hinting that it was.

Broken Pocket Watch - Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

I hate the ending as well. The book feels like McEwan ran out of steam, that he invested too much, expended his bank of knowledge and just tailed off into an unfitting conclusion because he no other way of getting out. It’s not quite by the grace of god, but it left me feeling disappointed that things are suddenly simplified and abrupt, it peaks and then dies, destroying the emotional tension and opposing feelings the book had created inside.

Enduring Love wasn’t the tale of ballooning I am still looking for, maybe that tale doesn’t actually exist; and while it was an enjoyable read, because it oozes a level of detail and quality in the research, the story as a whole just feels a bit too muddled and at times too teasing of routes you wish it would go. It’s worth reading because there is a literacy class from Ian McEwan that will stir you emotionally, but ultimately, the plot leave you wishing for slightly more because it’s a book you observe rather than a book you participate in.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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