Enduring Love is Ian McEwan’s sixth novel, which was released in 1997 and adapted into a film directed by Robert Mitchell in 2004. Being an Ian McEwan novel, it’s no surprise that it deals with characters and situations which are a bit ‘other’ or taboo. In this book he tackles mental illness and obsession, which might seem more light-hearted than his forays with incest in The Cement Garden or the overly depressing tale of Atonement, but actually it’s more of a thriller and, I think, more un-put-down-able than both of those.
It begins with a particularly dramatic scene in which the main character, Joe Rose, is involved in a tragic balloon accident, and subsequently becomes the victim of unwanted obsessive attention from a young religious fanatic, Jed Parry, who was also present and believes the accident was caused by God to bring the two men together. Needless to say, this puts quite a strain on the relationship between Joe and his partner Clarissa, who finds Jed Parry’s attachment difficult to accept.
It’s a pretty gripping read, and I found the psychology behind it all totally fascinating, especially as the reader is often left doubting whether the problem behind the obsession lies with Joe or Jed. McEwan’s very clever in allowing the reader to pity Jed, while at the same time presenting him as potentially dangerous and unhinged. It’s supposedly based on a true case, which is explained in the appendices and makes the story even more fascinating. The fact that it’s also a pretty short book, at only 250 pages or so, means it’s a perfect length to hold sufficient suspense and tension without stretching the believability factor too thin or dragging it out too long and making the reader lose interest or feel unsatisfied. I really enjoyed the book, and would absolutely recommend it.
The film, on the other hand, was absolutely terrible. To begin with, I had many issues with the casting. The part of Joe was played by Daniel Craig, who I actually thought was alright and was pretty much how I imagined him, although he did mostly appear to be annoyed and pissed off at Jed instead of at all concerned or frightened about the stalking situation. I thought the choice of Rhys Ifans to play Jed Parry was a big mistake though. He didn’t seem nearly innocent or eager enough, just pretty weird and sinister from the outset, whereas in the book he initially appears harmless, although infatuated, and is easy to pity. It’s always going to be hard casting characters from novels because everyone has their own personal idea of what they should look like, how they should speak etc., and so perhaps my views on Rhys Ifans are based more on opinion, but there’s absolutely no denying that that Samantha Morton (who plays the character of Clarissa, renamed Claire in the film) is responsible for some of the most wooden and unconvincing acting I’ve ever seen in my life. She was so terrible that I actually found it incredibly awkward to watch any scene she was in, it was just awful. And she was such a wet lettuce, whereas Claire/Clarissa is actually pretty feisty in the book, and capable of expressing some kind of emotion. Samantha Morton, on the other hand, appears incapable of rearranging her face into anything other than a bored expression. The casting wasn’t all terrible though. Bill Nighy was wonderful, as always, and Ben Whishaw was a lovely and endearing surprise.
I also had major issues with the way the story was told. The opening scenes with the balloon weren’t nearly dramatic enough, considering they act as a catalyst for everything that occurs afterwards, and the discovery of John Logan in the field was far grizzlier than I thought was necessary, and actually made me feel rather squeamish. The first phone call between Jed and Joe, which was crucial in the book for establishing the whole sinister-stalker plotline was entirely missing from the film, as were the many increasingly fanatical letters sent by Jed, which were responsible for creating the tension between Joe and Clarissa in the book and left the reader questioning whether the obsession lay with Joe or Jed. The fact that both of these key plot elements were missing from the film means that the character of Jed becomes nowhere near as sinister and potentially dangerous as he is portrayed in the book, and so also has nowhere near the same levels of suspense.
Some of the scenes were so awkward and uncomfortable to watch, such as the ending, which is completely different to that of the book and, I think, nowhere near as effective. Without giving anything away, the book ending is made even more memorable by the appendices included by Ian McEwan, which explain the outcome of the true story he supposedly based the book on. Similarly awkward was a very strange scene in which Jed Parry sings to Joe in front of one of his lecture classes, which goes totally against the nature of the book character of Jed, who definitely kept his obsession private rather than announcing it so publicly. The idea of de Clerambault sufferers imagining messages in curtains is hammered home so much that it becomes quite ridiculous, and on top of it all the film is constantly overwhelmed by incessantly loud and intrusive music, although maybe that’s a good thing if it distracts from Samantha Morton’s complete lack of acting.
I’m more than disappointed with the adaptation, I actually feel quite annoyed that such a good book suffered such terrible treatment, and that such a compelling story was performed so ridiculously and mundanely. Please, by all means, go ahead and read the book. But for goodness’ sake, whatever you do, steer clear of this godawful film!