Enduring Love


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Enduring Love


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Enduring Love is a novel about obsessions. Highlighting the tension between emotion and science, delusion and rationality, the book is a psychological thriller written in Ian McEwan’s typically understated prose.

Enduring Love: Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan was born in Aldershot, Hampshire on 21st June 1948. His father, David McEwan, was a Scotsman and a career military man. As a result, McEwan grew up in East Asia, Germany, and North Africa. His mother, Rose, was already married with two children but re-married David McEwan after becoming pregnant during their affair.

After an average time at school, it was as an English Literature student at the University of Sussex that McEwan began to write creatively.

While still a Masters's student at the University of East Anglia, he began publishing his work. Ted Solotaroff of the New American Review, was a mentor who published his writing alongside work by literary giants Philip Roth and Susan Sontag.

McEwan’s first book of short stories, First Love, Last Rites (1975) won the Somerset Maugham Award. His early work is pretty macabre, and he openly admits his goal was to shock his readers.

His mid-career novels, which include Amsterdam (1998) and Atonement (2001) are more thematically subtle and maintain his low-key, paired back approach to prose.

McEwan is also a playwright, and children’s book author, who has a long list of awards and fellowships. He has been married twice and has two sons, Gregory and William. His novels have been made into both movies and plays.

Enduring Love: book

Enduring Love was published in 1997 and is one of Ian McEwan’s more moderate mid-career novels. The book has been praised for its portrayal of obsession, its analysis of the tensions between rationality and emotion and the immediacy of its opening.

Enduring Love was made into a big-budget 2004 film starring Daniel Craig, Rhys Ifans and Samantha Morton. The film received mixed reviews, making some Top 500 films of all time lists and also getting labelled as far-fetched. It has pretty mediocre reviews on both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

Ian McEwan's Enduring Love: summary

Enduring Love starts off in a field where the protagonist, Joe Rose, is picnicking with his long-term partner, Clarissa Mellon. A hot air balloon with a young boy in its basket breaks free of its moorings. Joe joins several men trying to pull it back to earth, but all eventually give up and let go of the rope, except one doctor, John Logan, who holds on for too long. He falls to his death.

Jed Parry, a stranger in the crowd, catches Joe’s eye. He has a mental illness, de Clérambault's Syndrome or Erotomania, and perceives Joe’s eye contact as a declaration of love. He begins a disturbingly obsessive relationship with Joe, believing the incident was a sign from God for him to convert Joe.

Although the balloon lands safely and the boy survives, Joe becomes enmeshed in remembering the day’s events and blames himself for the doctor, John Logan’s, death. He goes to visit the dead doctor’s widow, who confides that she thinks her husband was having an affair. She found a woman’s belongings in his car. She believes that he died showing off to his mistress, and not because he was heroically trying to save the young boy in the balloon. She urges Joe to investigate her suspicions by speaking to the people present that day.

At a lunch with Joe, Clarissa and her godfather, a man seated near them is shot in the shoulder. Jed appears out of nowhere to prevent the unknown gunmen from finishing the attempted murder. Joe thinks that Jed organised the attacked and meant to kill him but the gunmen got the wrong table. Joe tells the police that he believes Jed is behind the attack, but he lacks evidence and loses credibility when he muddles his facts. His unproven instincts about Jed and his verbalisation of them begin to put a strain on his relationship with Clarissa.

Afraid for his personal safety, Joe buys a gun from his old drug dealer. On his way home, he gets a call from Jed who is with Clarissa. Joe arrives to find them sitting on the sofa. Jed pulls out a knife, apologises for the harm he has caused Joe and admits to his involvement in the shooting incident. He then holds the knife to his neck. Joe shoots him in the arm to prevent his apparent suicide attempt.

Joe and Clarissa take Jean Rogan and her two children on a picnic. They introduce her to the young woman and her older, married lover, who John Rogan gave a lift on the day of his death. It was her belongings in the car.

Two appendixes to the novel relay that Joe and Clarissa overcome their rift and adopt a child. Jed remains uncured and confined to a psychiatric unit.

Ian McEwan's Enduring Love: analysis

Enduring Love is a novel about obsession. It also examines the tension between science, represented by Joe and faith, often represented by Jed. Similarly, the tension between rationality and delusion is explored in the depiction of the characters Jed versus Joe, and even Jed versus Joan. Another layer of juxtaposition is reflected in the relationship between science and emotion or poetry and stories, as represented by Joe, a science journalist and Clarissa, a professor of Keat’s poetry.

The novel is postmodern, with typically postmodern characteristics such as metafiction, the questioning of ultimate truth, paratext and metafiction.

Postmodernism is a movement that followed Modernism. Considered to have begun in roughly 1945, it is characterised by subjectivity over objectivity, non-linear plot lines and metafiction.

Paratext is a term coined by literary theorist Gérard Genette. It references the linked devices such as blurbs and author's quotes that publishers use to create context for a novel.

Metafiction is when a novel refers to itself or its method of creation, indicating its separation from reality.

Truth and subjectivity

McEwan questions the existence of an ultimate truth through Joe’s narration of the novel. Joe states on Pg 18 that 'a beginning is an artifice'. The laws of logic, which he relies on as a scientific journalist, lead to the conclusion that anything that follows the artificial premise is artificial too.


By highlighting the narrator's awareness of the process of creating the novel or telling the story, McEwan creates what is termed metafiction. The reader knows they are reading an artificial construct as the narrator, through the author, consciously makes it. Joe, as the narrator, as well as acknowledging the 'artifice' of narration, also refers to stories or narratives as:

the organising principle of human action. (Chapter 2)


Intertextuality is usually deliberate and direct references to external texts. This is done to create additional layers of meaning and alternative readings. References can also be indirect.

An interesting example of intertextuality is the scientific paper used as one of the two appendixes. Written by McEwan in the form of a formal psychiatric case study, the appendix references the type of academic work upheld by the scientific community. Amusingly, The New York Times book review believed the fictional case study of Erotomania was real and criticised him for 'sticking too closely to the facts'.1 He also submitted the study to be published in a scientific journal, but it was declined.

Why do you think McEwan submitted his made-up scientific paper on Erotomania to a scientific journal? Do you think he expected it to be published?

Ian McEwan's Enduring Love: characters

There are several supporting characters in Enduring Love, but the three key characters are explored below.


A scientific journalist, Joe is the protagonist. He blames himself for letting go of the rope and indirectly causing the doctor's death. Jed’s obsessive stalking of him almost derails Joe’s rational approach to life until he discovers the scientific explanation for his condition.

Joe is also the narrator. As a trained 'neutral observer', he describes himself as 'in a dream ... both first and third persons.'


Clarissa is Joe’s long-term partner and a professor in the poetry of Keats, a Romantic-era poet. She is one of the emotional foils of Joe’s dependence on rationality and logic. Their relationship is almost destroyed by the breakdown of trust between them, mainly over the subject of Jed.


Jed is a delusional and highly religious young man. He is the antagonist who becomes obsessed with Joe. He has de Clérambault's Syndrome, which causes violent and stalker-like behaviour in men. He is ultimately committed to an institution for his safety, as well as the safety of others.

Ian McEwan's Enduring Love: quotes

The novel’s themes of subjective truth and perception can be seen reflected in the first two quotes below.

I've already marked my beginning, the explosion of consequences, with the touch of a wine bottle and a shout of distress. But this pinprick is as notional as a point in Euclidean geometry, and though it seems right, I could have proposed the moment Clarissa and I planned to picnic after I had collected her from the airport, or when we decided on our route, or the field in which to have our lunch, and the time we chose to have it. There are always antecedent causes. A beginning is an artifice, and what recommends one over another is how much sense it makes of what follows.' - Joe

Clarissa said that I had not understood her. There was nothing wrong in analysing the bits, but it was easy to lose sight of the whole. I agreed. The work of synthesis was crucial. Clarissa said I still did not understand her, she was talking about love. I said I was too, and how babies who could not yet speak got more of it for themselves. She said no, I still didn't understand. - Joe

Similarly, the novel's exploration of the tension between science and emotion can be seen in the final two quotes. These are taken from a debate on Neo-Darwinism between Joe and Clarissa.

Darwinism is the theory of biological evolution proposed by naturalist, Charles Darwin in his work On the Origins of the Species (1859).

Neo-Darwinism combines Darwin's theory of natural selection with genetics, a modern field of study that has only developed recently.

The word from the human biologists bears Darwin out: the way we wear our emotions on our faces is pretty much the same in all cultures, and the infant smile is one social signal that is particularly easy to isolate and study. In Edward O. Wilson's cool phrase, it triggers a more abundant share of parental love and affection.' - Joe

Everything was being stripped down, she said, and in the process some larger meaning was lost. What a zoologist had to say about, a baby's smile could be of no real interest. The truth of that smile, was in the eye and heart of the parent, and in the unfolding love

that only had meaning through time.' - Clarissa

Enduring Love - Key takeaways

  • Enduring Love is a 1997 novel by Ian McEwan.
  • The novel is a postmodernist novel with elements of paratext, intertextuality and metafiction.
  • Joe is the protagonist, while Jed is the antagonist.
  • Key themes include the tension between science and emotion, rationality and delusion, as well as obsession.
  • Although his novel's events depict the everyday colliding with the unusual, McEwan's prose is very minimalist and paired back.
  • The novel has been made into a 2004 film starring Daniel Craig and Samantha Morton.

1 Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, 'Enduring Love: Science Vs. The Divine, With Suspense and Passion', New York Times, 1998.

Frequently Asked Questions about Enduring Love

No, it is not based on a true story.

At the end of Enduring Love, Joe and Clarissa get back together and adopt a child. Jed is institutionalised.

The boy in the balloon lands safely, meaning that the doctor's death was unnecessary.

The book is considered a pyschological thriller.

Enduring Love is a book about obsession and the tension between science and faith as well as logic and emotion.

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