Book 932 Ian McEwan – Enduring Love

I first read Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love in 2005 and I promptly got bored after 50 pages or so as I thought that the language was way too flowery for my tastes. At the time I was going through jobs and my mind could not focus on reading. Maybe that is no excuse but when your mind is on other things sometimes it can block out and dominate your life. However it seems that I have been given a second chance.

One fine sunny afternoon, Joe Rose, a Science Journalist, is settling down for a picnic with his girlfriend Clarissa (oooo a classical literary name!) and Joe discovers a hot air balloon being buffeted by the wind and comes rushing (with some other men) to help control the balloon.

Unfortunately they do not succeed and there is a fatality, As Joe is resignedly returning to the picnic he meets one of the men who helped him, Jed Parry. Jed then tries to coerce Joe to pray so that Logan (the fatality) will be saved. Joe refuses and this sparks of Jed’s obsession with him.

Parry then tries to declare his love to Joe by phoning him, trailing him and sending him passionate love letters, all which make Joe become intent on arresting Jed. This passion affects Clarissa, who thinks Joe his making too big a deal and their relationship begins to disintegrate. Finally Jed’s love for Joe reaches an unhealthy climax.

Enduring Love tackles all types of love, not only between Jed , Joe and Clarissa but even from the minor characters in the book. Logan’s widow , a hippie couple who Joe visits even between Clarissa’s brother. It seems that despite all the tests that life offers, love will remain the order of the day and will not disappear.

Although McEwan is known for his rather negative plots, the positivity Enduring Love exudes in its final chapter was a pleasant surprise. I too believe that love is a dominant and everlasting factor in our lives and if there are challenges it makes love stronger.

As always the language McEwan uses is beautiful. The opening chapters about the failed balloon mission is alone one of the best things I’ve ever read and will remain in memory for a long time. Not to mention other rather fantastic scenes. It seems with each sentence Enduring Love becomes more exciting and you are quickly drawn into the complex world of  Jed, Joe and Clarissa.

Enduring Love is a book which succeeds on every level is most definitely a classic.

Book 962 Ian McEwan – Atonement

I have got a lot of mixed reactions with McEwan’s Atonement. On one I love the first half of the book which really sets the scene for the novel and I think that it’s final part is a great twist and the ultimate form of atonement but it’s mid section simply stinks of selling out. It’s as if McEwan saw Saving Private Ryan and tried his hardest to emulate it in prose.

The novel takes place in pre-world War II Britain, where the Tallis family are expecting the return of their son, Leon. His youngest sister Briony has written a play for him , while her eldest sister Cecilia has returned from Cambridge to greet him as well. In the meantime she is also having romantic feelings for her childhood friend Robbie. Also in tow are the Tallis’ cousins Lola and twin brothers Jackson and Pierrot.

Finally Leon arrives with his friend Paul. At the same time Cecilia and Robbie have an argument which is witnessed by Briony. In order to atone for his first mistake Robbie writes a dirty letter then a proper one, unfortunately he sends the dirty one to Cecilia via Briony ( shades of The Go Between here). Briony reads the letter and decides that Robbie is a maniac.

Robbie now realises that he made a mistake and apologises to Ceclia and they have sex in the library, again Briony manages to catch them and formulates her own conclusions – eventually getting Robbie kicked out of the house and arrested.

Years later and Robbie is now a soldier in the second World War both Cecilia and Briony are nurses and the latter is very guilty about her actions. Robbie does actually die of septicemia and never reunite.

Jump forward to 1999 and Briony has now finally atoned for her mistake many years ago by writing the Novel ‘Atonement’  but she changes events and creates a happy ending. Perversely Briony herself states the atonement cannot be achieved through writing as the author can change whatever he wants and shape the future by using his pen.

This is the real masterstroke of the novel. In Plato’s Phaedrus , Socrates places an emphasis that written word is more powerful than spoken and in Atonement we do see that the written word from the letter that Robbie writes to the conclusion that it is writing that shapes people’s actions and destinies. Despite the fact that Briony states that writing will never compensate for actions (which I agree with) the written can be equally powerful.

What does put me off the novel is it’s stuffy writing – something Brit authors tend to suffer from-  and the hackneyed mid section. Sure it may be well studied but it still bored me.

Personally I think McEwan excels when he is writing about the perverse and unthinkable. The Cement Garden,  Enduring Love, The Comfort of Strangers are really what I look for. Atonement may be McEwan at his most elegant but, with the exception of a few portions of the novel, it’s also his dullest novel to date.