It’s love. Intense, consuming, enduring love. And it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.
This is the story of Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love, a fictionalized retelling of a real case of “erotomania”—a psychological disorder that causes its victims to fall instantly and madly in love with those who don’t know them, don’t like them, and want them as far away as possible.
No, I’m not making fun of your sad dating history. The difference between bad luck and insanity turns out to be significant: the erotomaniac, you see, believes that the object of his affection returns the feelings and even initiated the relationship—that the beloved’s anger, confusion, indifference, and restraining orders are actually tests designed to determine just how devoted the long-suffering victim is. The erotomaniac believes that the beloved is constantly sending him secret, coded messages meant to inflame his passion—by touching the hedges in a certain way, for instance, or arranging the curtains just so. He doesn’t understand how the beloved can be so alternately loving (to send such ardent signals) and cruel (to spit on him when discovering him on the front porch again).
It’s like the most clueless, deluded, pathetically hopeful person you’ve ever dated times a hundred.
This is the nightmare lived by McEwan’s protagonist, Joe Rose—a mid-thirties science writer, happily coupled, who meets his own special erotomaniac on the scene of a strange hot-air balloon accident. The man, Jed Parry, believes his mission is not only to love the socks off Joe but also to stamp out his atheist beliefs. The fixation sets off a chain of increasingly unsettling events that threaten Joe’s relationship and sanity, and even—since half of male erotomaniacs eventually turn violent—his life.
I admit it—I have an enduring love for Ian McEwan. His writing is both thoughtful and beautiful—this is the first-person style I like—and his plots are original and nicely structured. If you find me camping outside his house, drooling over the man’s communicative curtains, don’t say I didn’t warn you.