Enduring Love

Enduring Love Study Guide

Enduring Love, published in 1997, is Ian McEwan's sixth novel and one of his most successful, shortlisted for several prizes. It was adapted into a film in 2004. It tells the story of Joe Rose, who struggles to maintain his comfortable life and relationship after witnessing a horrible and senseless balloon accident. Joe is the object of another man's obsession, Jed Parry, who suffers from de Clérambault’s syndrome. Through the exploration of Parry's and Joe's relationship and all the characters' reactions to the balloon accident, the novel explores self-awareness in narrative, epistemological doubt and the limitations of knowledge, and the strength of love.

McEwan uses Joe's position as a science writer to investigate epistemology, or how we know things. As a writer, Joe is hyperaware of the power of narratives and stories, and often references his own choices in telling his story. This is most noticeable when Joe explains how he chooses a beginning for his story, explaining that he chooses the moment that makes the most "sense" of the events. "Sense"-making is a crucial thread that runs through the novel, as each character struggles to understand the balloon accident.

The balloon accident that begins the novel is characteristic of McEwan's work; he often uses a sudden and shocking event as a catalyst for the exploration and deterioration of human relationships and identities. It is also the most celebrated part of the novel. While initial reviews of Enduring Love were mixed, critics universally praised the beginning, calling it "arresting" and "wonderful." It works as an initial climax to the novel and is echoed later when Parry holds Clarissa hostage.

Critics have been divided on the novel's structure. Some praise it for its "page-turner" nature and engrossing plot. Others criticize the combination of a delicate psychological and philosophical investigation with a crude "dime-store" thriller. Critics agree, however, on the beauty of McEwan's prose, even designating a word, "McEwanesque," to describe a style that joins word economy and clarity with a menacing undertone and "subtextual darkness."