I remember that after reading Atonement I spend a couple of weeks under its hypnosis, thinking about it often. It propelled the book to my top 5 and after reading Saturday and On Cesil Beach Ian McEwan also entered my favorite authors list.

Just like Ishiguro, I’m determined to read everything he’s ever written or will write. I wasn’t as impressed with Amsterdam as most, but McEwan is one of those writers that manages to be better than most, even when he is not at his best.

Like Atonement, Enduring Love also starts with a life-changing event that propels the rest of the story. In this case it’s an unusual and tragic accident involving a hot air balloon. Among those involved are Joe, his wife Clarissa and a strange young man called Parry. From the start Parry feels a special connection to Joe, which soon develops into an obsession fueled by romantic and religious delusions.

Unexpectedly, of all the traumas of that fated day, Parry becomes the ever-expanding crack in Joe and Clarissa’s happy lives.

Without ever overwhelming us with foreboding, the book seeps with a feeling of impending… something. For instance, looking back to the moment when he ran towards the balloon and away from his picnic, Joe thinks:

What idiocy, to be racing into this story and its labyrinths, sprinting away from our happiness among the fresh spring grasses by the oak.

Sentences like that kept me on edge throughout the book: the slow-motion analysis of the accident, the unreliable first-person narrator, the escalation of Parry’s actions that may or may not become violent, Joe’s growing obsession with stopping Parry at the expense of everything else.

From the others books I’ve read, I’m convinced that McEwan manages to pull off such tantalizing stories because of the way he handles very specific events. He lingers, changes pace at will and never over-describes or makes it boring. As Joe remembers the balloon event over several pages, he says that “the best description of a reality does not need to mimic its velocity” and that’s the best way of describing McEwan’s style.

I see us from two hundred feet up, through the eyes of the buzzard we had watched earlier, soaring, circling and dipping in the tumult of currents: five men running silently; towards the centre of a hundred acre field. (…)

The encounter that would unhinge us was minutes away, its enormity disguised from us not only by the barrier of time but by the colossus in the centre of the field that drew us in with the power of a terrible ratio that set fabulous magnitude against the puny human distress at its base. (…)

I’m holding back, delaying the information, I’m lingering in the prior moment because it was a time when other outcomes were still possible; the convergence of six figures in a flat green space has a comforting geometry from the buzzard’s perspective, the knowable, limited plane of the snooker table.

Man, he’s good!

It makes me think of that scene in Atonement where Cecilia picks up the broken piece of ceramic from the fountain, triggering something in Briony’s mind and solidifying Robbie’s feelings. And in a way, On Cecil Beach is just one long “moment” (did you know there’s going to be a movie? Sam Mendes directing, Carey Mulligan as Florence, I can already smell the Oscars).

Ian McEwan could pick up any story, no matter how boring and seemingly insignificant and turn it into a beautiful thing.

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Other thoughts: Books I Done Reads (yours?)

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