Synopses & Reviews
In one of the most striking opening scenes ever written, a bizarre ballooning accident and a chance meeting give birth to an obsession so powerful that an ordinary man is driven to the brink of madness and murder by another's delusions. Ian McEwan brings us an unforgettable story—dark, gripping, and brilliantly crafted—of how life can change in an instant.
About the Author
Ian McEwan is the author of two collections of stories; five novels, including The Comfort of Strangers, A Child in Time, Winner of the Whitbread Prize, The Innocent, Black Dogs, and a novel for children and adults, The Daydreamer.
Reading Group Guide
1. Joe Rose is the narrator throughout Enduring Love
; what kind of narrator is he? Near the beginning of the novel he describes himself as "in a dream ... both first and third persons." (19) He does seem to have an interesting omniscient quality; what accounts for this? Is it a result of his penchant for rationalism? His training as a detached observer?
2. When does the reader begin to suspect that Joe may not be altogether reliable with his version of events? How does Ian McEwan manage to create this suspicion when it is Joe himself who is telling the story?
3. There are many threads of philosophical tension in Enduring Love. This is apparent between Clarissa and Joe right from the beginning. Clarissa, a Romantic scholar, had written passionate love letters to Joe earlier in their relationship, and Joe, science journalist, had tried to match them, "but all that sincerity would permit me were the facts." (7) When Joe discusses the possibility of the colonization of Mars, Clarissa replies, "What's the point? It's beautiful here and we're still unhappy." (222) Are there ways in which these roles -- Clarissa as romantic; Joe as rationalist -- are reversed as the novel progresses?
4. To continue the philosophical thread, how might we think of Joe and Jed as two sides of the same coin? Again, Joe is the rational one; he longs for the comfort of "the high-walled infinite prison of directed thought" he finds in his work (48) -a prison similar to the one the clinical 'P' contentedly inhabits at the end of novel. Jed is passion and religious fervour run amok, who determines to free Joe "from his little cage of reason," (133) but it is Joe who is not believed, either by the police or by Clarissa. What are we to make of this strange irony?
5. What are we to intuit, if anything, from our reading of this novel about the relationship between faith and reason?
6. Why do you suppose Ian McEwan chose to have his character Clarissa a scholar of Keats?
7. Is there anything about Keats's relationship with Wordsworth that speaks to the novel? "There's always something delicious about young genius spurned by the powerful." (169)
8. When Joe takes Clarissa to Chiltern Hills for a reunion picnic, and the balloon accident and fateful meeting with Jed Parry take place, we might think Joe was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a coincidence and the reader is quite prepared to believe it. Did you respond any differently to the restaurant scene much later in the novel when Colin Tapp is shot? Joe immediately thinks "It was a mistake. Nothing personal. It was a contract, and it had been bungled. It should have been me." (173) Did you accept Joe's version of the shooting? Or did you wonder if it was another horrendous case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time -- another coincidence? Are there any other coincidences in the novel?
9. Joe adopts research in his war against Jed Parry. He thinks his investigation into de Clérambault's syndrome will produce an understanding, at least in Clarissa, of what he's up against. Why does it fail to achieve the reconciliation with her that he desires? What is the significance of Joe thinking: "I was getting things right in the worst possible way." (215) And of Clarissa's statement to Joe in a letter that "your being right is not a simple matter." (216)
10. There are many kinds of love in the novel. The love of Joe for Clarissa: "It had always seemed to me that our love was just the kind to endure," (158) echoed by Clarissa: "I always thought our love was the kind that was meant to go on"; (219) the obsessive love Jed has for Joe: "My love for you is hard and fierce, it won't take no for an answer, and it's moving steadily towards you ..."; (136) and even the clinical appendix: "the pathological extensions of love not only touch upon but overlap with normal experience." (242) There is erotic love, idealized love, obsessive love, jealous love, and the love of a woman (Jean Logan) who believes her husband died an adulterer. How are these various kinds of love suggested by the novel's ambiguous title?
11. Look again at the novel's first chapter. Sixteen pages contain all, or nearly all, of the novel's central concerns: reason vs. passion; appearance and reality; guilt and forgiveness; love and death; coincidence. Can you think of how Ian McEwan manages to draw lines from each of the events in the first chapter to the broader narrative that follows? One line among many you might consider in your discussion: "Or, I imagined, I was another man, my own sexual competitor, come to steal her from me." (5)
12. Letters play a central role in the telling of the story, and in its thematic content. At the beginning of the novel, Joe expresses Clarissa's conviction that "love that did not find its expression in a letter was not perfect." (7) About Jed's letters to Joe, Clarissa says, "His writing's rather like yours." (100) Consider the importance of letters in Enduring Love?
13. Enduring Love might be said to have two beginnings. Joe painstakingly outlines the events leading to the balloon accident and its tragic aftermath in the first chapter. But if the novel has two beginnings, what is the second? How are the two beginnings eventually resolved?
14. Clarissa and Joe seem to have an enviable relationship at the beginning of the novel. What is the attraction of each to the other? What seeds of discontent, if any, were already present? How do you think the relationship would have fared without the balloon accident and the arrival of Jed Parry?
15. Ian McEwan is often praised for the great economy of his writing: he is able to fashion a tremendous story in relatively few pages. Enduring Love certainly seems to fit this description. It's not a long novel, but as critics have said, it packs an enormous punch. Did you respond to the novel as a thriller? How did you find the experience of reading it?
16. It is one of Ian McEwan's great and distinguishing qualities as a writer-and one that brings many readers back to his writing time and again-that he is able, subtly but with apparent simplicity, to pinpoint the disturbing shadows and patterns that underlie our lives and our desires. How disturbing a story is Enduring Love, and why is it so compelling?