Friday, 2 November 2007

Balloons, North London, and Nutters.

by Edwin Hesselthwite

After savaging American Gods, I thought it suitable to follow up with a review of a book that I just read and, not only enjoyed, but was completely blown away by - Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan.

McEwan is a Booker Prize winner, he cant get away from it and his name will be plastered next to that tainted award till the end of time, let's get the pity out of the way at the beginning. Reading Enduring Love was quite the opposite experience to a worthy British literary novel (I don't usually read Brits). In the course of this book, no one overcomes anything, there is no mention of the beauty of life in a Turkish community in The Shetlands, and no one has to challenge their family's preconceptions about anything. Far from it, Love is a gripping, tense, page-turner which uses it's author's masterful literary technique to drive home a story that could easily have come packaged as a thriller.

The basic tale revolves around a tragic helium balloon accident, that serves as the trigger for a series of life changing events amongst all those present. The three lead characters are Joe, a North London based science writer, his partner Clarissa an English Literature professor, and Jed Parry, a party to the accident. I am loathe to discuss the story details much further, because it hinges on the most skilful use of the unreliable narrator technique I have encountered outside of The Usual Suspects. Every chapter of the book serves to cast light on the mental state of the lead, and it isn't up until the very last two pages that you have any idea of how much to trust him. I have never read a book where I had less idea where the hell it was going from one page to the next.

And yet, beyond the masterful structural tricks, this is an extremely human book. It fits into that very small category of love stories (along with The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene, one of my all time favourite novels) that show the mixture of fragility and emotional weight that characterise two people pretending they are somehow the same. I think it says something about me that I only really adore love stories about relationships falling apart.

But beyond the love story, and the literary, this is a novel about stalkers and about not knowing if you are losing your mind... At its heart is the fear that develops because someone else is thinking a lot about you, and you have no idea what they are thinking, whether that be love or hate. This loneliness tangible though-out Enduring Love illustrates my city in a way few London books manage.

I am finding it unusually hard to write a review of a book where you can't mention any of the plot without ruining it, so lets just say it's not as literary as one would expect, but that there is a humanity and stylistic skill that few other writers can touch. This novel hits you simultaneously in the chest and in the head. Its themes, settings, and fragility are exactly what I needed at the time...


Bibliolatrist said...

Nice review. I'm adding this to by list.

Bibliolatrist said...

Oops, to *my* list, that is.

Shades of Grey said...

I read this on the insistent recommendation of a person who's judgement I trusted. I was rather disappointed.

He's been honing his themes of personal isolation and the loss of intimacy for a while now. He does it quite well. So well that I felt isolated from the protagonists and ultimately disinterested in their fates. Perhaps he made his point rather too well for my comfort?