2007-07-19

Enduring Love

Have you read Enduring Love by Ian McEwan? No? Well, do.

I've read it before and am reading it again now for book club purposes. (Yeah, book club! There's hope for you yet!) I wish I hadn't let so many intervening years (6 or 7) go by since I last read this book.

Here's what I love:

- The entire opening chapter. There is nothing to equal it. It stands alone beautifully. In fact, I do believe, although I couldn't swear to it (the front matter of my edition makes no mention of it), that this chapter was originally published as a short story and that is how I first encountered it. A picnic, a yell, five men running toward each other across a field, disorder, tragedy, guilt, the beginning of obsession. I don't want to tell you any more: just read it yourself and then let me know what you think.

- The writing is exquisite. Here's an example; the narrator is describing his experience of recounting the story of the tragedy to friends:

I watched our friends' wary, intelligent faces droop at our tale. Their shock was a mere shadow of our own, resembling more the good-willed imitation of that emotion, and for this reason it was a temptation to exaggerate, to throw a rope of superlatives across the abyss that divided the experience from its representation by anecdote. Over the days and weeks, Clarissa and I told our story many times to friends, colleagues, and relative. I found myself using the same phrases, the same adjectives in the same order. It became possible to recount the events without re-living them in the faintest degree, without even remembering them.* (p. 36)**

- The philosophical questions: What are our moral obligations to our fellow humans; are they different for relations than for strangers; how do we balance self-interest and altruism? What is the biological basis for altruism? How does game theory impact our decisions?

- The science vs. religion threads that appear throughout the story. Rationality vs. irrationality.

- The discussion of love. The parallel discussion of obsession.

* This exactly how I feel when telling a friend a story about something that happened to me. If I have a 1 hour delay in the airport, it pisses me off a certain amount. Let x be that amount. I tell you about it... now, you may like me, but you're not me, so although you sympathize, my feelings of x will elicit something less than x in you. 1/2 x, let's say, if I am lucky. OK, so when I tell you about my experience, I am trying to do more than give you the bare facts. I want to communicate how the experience made me feel. So, without meaning to lie, really, my 1 hour wait at the airport somehow becomes a 2 hour wait at the airport in the retelling. And now you, bless you, feel x too. Thank you.

** Vintage Edition, 1998.

7 comments:

Molly said...

Okay, I just put a request in for Enduring Love at the county library. But I have a feeling my book group would not be happy at the prospect of having to think about those questions. I'm beginning to understand why so many people form online book groups!

fiona-h said...

I'll be so curious to hear what you think!

Zootenany Hoodlum said...

You had a one (two) hour wait at the airport?

fiona-h said...

Yes - each way!!!

richard said...

Four hours each way? Really? Awful.

Enduring Love sounds very good -- I might try more McEwen after all!

fiona-h said...

It's the best of his that I have read.

Mark Hanington said...

Interesting to see "pissed off" expressed in algebraic terms.