Enduring Love by Ian McEwan – Review

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan book cover

“Don’t leave me here with my mind, I thought.”

One of the oldest and most interesting tricks in the literary handbook is to make readers ask, “What would I do?”

It’s a bright summer day in London. Something has gone horribly wrong: a child is in danger, and Joe Rose will be forced to make a difficult choice. Nearby, a strange man is feeling the stirrings of an obsession which will tear apart his sanity.

Enduring Love is above all else about the wild speculation we make when it comes to others’ motives. We can’t know what anyone is thinking, and yet live our lives on the assumption that speech and body-language gives us firm ground when it comes to understanding others. They often don’t. Ian McEwan wants us to know how arrogance in your own beliefs about the world around you can result in tragedy.

Using his own twisted version of the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma as the catalyst to this novel, McEwan makes you question how reliable your mind really is. He excels at showing the untrustworthy nature of human thoughts, and the way our emotions colour every interaction; how we stare out at the world and what we see is always distorted by what fills our head at the current moment.

McEwan’s prose is both clinical and dazzlingly beautiful, despite his often gruesome subject matters. He’s not afraid to look at what’s both rotten and interesting about the world, and reading him is like listening to an educated doctor wax lyrical about diseases. He may throw large amounts of scientific information at readers —which at times feels as though he’s doing so just to prove he can — but does so in small enough chunks that it’s satisfying but not particularly difficult to keep up.

Characters in Enduring Love are often shockingly certain about what others are thinking. This, of course, means things end messily, but it’s always a delight to read because each character is acting what they view as rational: “If you just saw thing my way…” With politics and anger so mixed together in our news, it’s important to often remind ourselves that even people we might see as evil are likely the heroes of their own story.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

“Nothing was ever discussed—nor did they feel the lack of intimate talk. These were matters beyond words, beyond definition.”

The only Ian McEwan novel I’d read before this one was ‘Atonement’, and I immediately noticed that they’re similar in theme. This isn’t a criticism, as the theme is a bloody interesting one. Both explore how misunderstandings destroy lives; in On Chesil Beach, however, it’s the words which go unsaid that cause lives to fall apart, rather than false assumptions as in Atonement. 

In 1962, two newly married virgins have a painful, frustrating wedding night. They lack the language to explain what happened, and the story is a painful one.Explaining their distress would involve skills of introspection which the two young adults simply don’t have, due to the well-meaning, stifling prissiness of their society. Each have problems that they can’t understand, let alone resolve. The language they need to explain and explore what’s wrong lies in parts of their minds they just can’t reach.

Melancholic and beautifully written, with prose which compares and weaves history and the mundane with precision, this is a great short read.