There's a deceptive coolness about the fiction of Ian McEwan. His prose is severely chiseled, and his strong interest in science lends a clinical air to his narratives, but this must not distract the reader from the deep vein of feeling that runs through them. Certainly it has never been more powerful than in Enduring Love, a novel that is at once an ingenious and formidably intelligent study of one form of mental illness and a wrenching evocation of the risks to which love can be put ... As treated by McEwan, Jed Parry's lunatic passion becomes a fun-house mirror that distorts the real passion between Joe and Clarissa; in so doing, it gives us a strange but revealing perspective on love itself. This may seem unlikely material, but out of it McEwan has fashioned a remarkable novel, haunting and original and written in prose that anyone who writes can only envy.
... [McEwan] has not lost his knack for intimating the unconventional -- his dark glance reminds us that normal behavior conceals but does not banish unsavory truths ... [the appendix] is an impressive transformation, the rearing up of a fictional world around summary notations from the realm of the actual. Impressive, but also curiously ballasted, as if by hewing to the highly eccentric contours of what really happened, the novelist were tethered on some deeper level. Interesting and credible though Joe and Clarissa are, there is some way in which they don't seem thoroughly known, as if McEwan didn't trust that he had permission to imagine them all the way into existence. The same constraint is felt, at times, about the developing situation: it is so unusual that it seems to lack some of the hard granularity of true invention ... The deeper implications of McEwan's novel begin to reach us just when we want to believe that all erratic forms of behavior have been tagged and dealt with.
What’s striking about McEwan’s later work and his new novel Enduring Love is its intimacy with evasion and failure, combined with an alert intelligence about these things which itself looks like grounds for hope ... opens with a moral puzzle so beautifully posed that you wonder if the book is ever going to escape from the parable into the larger, looser fiction ... As the story unfolds, it is evident that dependence and interdependence are the ideas McEwan wants us to think through, although nothing prepares us, or Joe, for what happens next or the turn these ideas take. This is where the parable opens brilliantly into a novel.
McEwan, a master stylist, has the complex psychology of this extreme yet credible situation down pat, managing, too, to subtly transform the struggle between Joe and Jed into a life-or-death battle between reason and faith, rationality and madness. A clever, impeccable, and positively Hitchcockian psychological thriller.
What is it that makes Ian McEwan's terrifying stories so compelling? His characters are not terribly interesting, and his language is plain when it isn't bland. But he is a master of the ordinary, and the extraordinary power of his books comes from the subtle and yet implacable way that everyday lives collide with evil ... McEwan's opening scene is a masterpiece of taut and precise writing.
Under [Ian McEwan's novels'] dark, bristling, thrillerish surfaces lurk explorations of the way we love now: men and women mostly, but parents and children too. His world appears a naturalistic one, but is also metaphorical, as in a romance. He illuminates inner states as well as outer ones, though his landscapes are always realistic and noir-ish enough to satisfy the butchest of readers ... explores the either/or thinking that Charlotte Bronte would have recognised. It pits science against madness, man against woman, reason against intuition, rationality against religion, passion against sanity, love against hate.
The opening of Enduring Love is one of the most compelling this reviewer has come across in years ... Not only suspenseful, it is also thematically rich, opposing as it does Joe's scientific view of the world with that of Clarissa, a Keatsian scholar who believes, as the poet did, that science is robbing the world of wonder ... The only drawback is that McEwan's story seems to resolve itself somewhat mechanically. At the end, you feel annoyed at Clarissa's response to what has happened, which somehow doesn't add up, leaving you with a sense that something is missing. When you discover at the end of the book an appendix documenting the case history on which Enduring Love is based, you think you know what is wrong. McEwan has simply stuck too close to the facts and failed to allow his imagination to invent.
It speaks well for Ian McEwan's descriptive powers and the fluency of his invention that this opening scene doesn't smell like essence of quandary, a carefully contrived human theorem, although his choice of profession for Joe a popularising science writer makes his mouthpiece almost too exquisitely adept at analysing its implications ... It's disappointing that a book that begins so full-throatedly should end with stagy confrontation, then case history, references and appendices.
As always, his work is imbued with a mounting sense of menace as the unthinkable intrudes into the everyday ... McEwan wrings wry meaning from the contrast of poetry and science, the limitations of rational logic and the delusive emotional temptations of faith ... Whatever its limitations, however, the tightly controlled narrative, equally graced with intelligent speculation and dramatic momentum, will keep readers hooked.
A sad, chilling, precise exploration of deranged love ... In lesser hands, the story might be overwrought and unbelievable, but McEwan's terse, lucid prose and sure grasp of character give resonance to this superb anatomy of obsession and exploration of the mind under extreme circumstance. Painful and powerful work by one of England's best novelists.