Blast From My Past: Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

I was going through my books to see which ones I was going to keep and which ones I had to give away. It was then I found a book from my first year of A level English Language and Literature: Enduring Love. We looked at key parts of the book and the film for coursework in order for use to be inspired to create a creative writing piece of fiction based on the book with a 500 word commentary. This was the reading piece and we also had to do a listening piece mainly based on a selection of sources including Coleridge’s work oddly enough.

For my (now-old) college, the examination board was changed and this meant the coursework was no longer required to do in the A level. For me, this would have been a shame. Also, the texts studies were going to be things like Shakespeare and Chaucer rather than the words we studied which were Joyce’s Dubliners, Tennesse’s The Glass Menagerie or Pinter’s Betrayal. Please don’t mis-understand, I enjoy the early works but arguably ‘contemporary’ pieces were more up my street like the works we studied.

My edition of the book (shown in the featuring image) is close to the DVD cover and posters of the film. The red lettering of the author’s name matches nearly the colour of the red balloon. In terms of sensuous language, the balloon is the catalyst to the events cataphorically referenced by the main character and narrator. The red balloon connotes how that one event created certain amounts of danger fro different people. This shows only through the cover alone how simple symbolism for that one event is key to foreshadow what happens to the main characters.

Back to Enduring Love, it was very interesting and clever how the voice is written to reflect the narrator’s character and unreliable part in telling the story. Especially when he forgets, goes off tangent or doesn’t remain true to the story since the entire story is in his first person narrative. It is also a meta-fictional narrative so adds another element to the fact this character is writing this story off the top of his head like a diary entry so parts of it are going to be untruthful to what actually happened. Even when the narrative is mainly about his partner, her point of view is still manipulated by what he thought she would be thinking, especially about him in an admirable way. In my opinion, it was nice to learn all of this and I do give props to McEwan with how he able to create such a voice for this one character who is being stalked by a mentally unstable man after a balloon incident (in a nut-shell).

However, even though I was very interesting, because this characters was such a strong character in his matter-of-fact-because-I’m-a-professor voice, it can get very annoying very quickly and you might feel as if you want to say ‘WE GET IT, NOW GET TO THE POINT.’ Not only that, but because McEwan has a background knowledge in film, you also get multiple perspectives from the ground to the sky to being in the balloon which in a way suited to the different technical shots in the film adaptation. Again, people might enjoy this and other might find it annoying and want a more coherent narrative. Because of this, I unfortunately struggle reading this again and I think if you are interested in alternative forms of narration, this might be worth a read.

There are spoilers of the techniques if you don’t want over-analysis, my commentary is the last 500 words of this post but if you want to read it, I advise reading it even though I just mentioned it now, reading it after my creative writing piece ‘Missed.’ that way, you can make your own judgements on the piece as an independent piece of work, in comparison with the book if you have read it or any other way you like reading this type of work.

Sit back with a cuppa tea, your scrolling finger and enjoy Missed by Hannah Rose Govan.


I can’t remember how it actually started. I can’t recall why I’m here. But it started when I entered the room. The doors where china white, and the windows on them looked as if they had been cleaned. They were small windows, possibly larger than very small but I don’t think you were able to see beyond the glass. I opened the one to the right and entered. It was humid. In the corner of my eye I noticed there were grey cracks on the ceiling. Likely from the pillars being less than substantial in a solid structure, causing an irregular pressure and therefore the cracks. Maybe that’s why it’s still humid. I sat on a chair; the oldest one. The threads from it were hanging in clumps and reached the floor. If I knew it was that hazardous I wouldn’t have sat there. But it was the closest to the door, and I would then avoid walking down that intimidating corridor, with little peeping eyes and faces in different shades of mood sneaking their gaze at you. It might have been before I opened the door or after I sat down, but I saw Catherine waiting in line to the reception, with four or five people waiting in front of her.

I don’t recall ever being in this building, but the faces appeared so familiar it was as if I’d give them a crooked smile when we’d cross roads, one day. There was one that was the most perplexing, was also the most average. The woman sat beside me. As I did when I entered the room, she was staring at the ceiling.
‘Humid in here, probably from cracks in the ceiling’.
Best to pace myself here, but I need to tell you about Jen; I learnt her name later. Her hair was in ringlets of blonde which covered her face. She tucked a lock behind her ear once we began to exchange words. This was a pin to the timeline of this day, or at least what I recall of it. She was a writer on neuroscience so we quickly fell into a discussion about the biochemistry by which the feeling of love is created and gravity pulling on them with this sensation people call ‘falling for someone’. I was lucky to have had Catherine in my life when I did, and this woman was the uncanny resemblance of her. The same hair, but only shorter, and the gaze Jen gave me when she deeply listened to me showed how intense her green eyes were. All the things I found physically attractive in Catherine was exaggerated in Jen’s physique. It was as if she was to my specification (and her words would’ve appeared in the perfect textbook on our knowledge). Would I still have met her if I hadn’t sat there? I wandered.

‘Have you never read the book then?’ Jen was curious about why I hadn’t read a particular book. A novel written a few years ago, the unravelling of three characters after a balloon incident.
‘To endure, one must have patience to do so, not this malarkey!’ I may have known about the book anyhow if it wasn’t brought up in our conversation again and seemed familiar.
We then imagined testing a hypothesis about this room. We chose those four or five people waiting in line. One was a man not unlike myself, bellowing to the receptionist with a string of curses attached like ‘tmesis’. He seemed flushed. As if he was going to be attacked.
‘You have got to listen. Take this man off the street. He is off his rocker and should be locked away!’
The receptionist was trying to reassure him it might not be what he thought , but at the same time anxiety was quickly spreading over her face and I saw her slamming various buttons down with one hand and a phone in another. It was clear he felt fear, he was exhaling heavily and his hands had a subtle quiver as if he exerted too much energy. There was a knock on the door, the one I opened, and the man began yelling at it. To go away and leave him be. I don’t think anyone saw who it was because of the slit of glass from the door, but it was clear it was going to be the same person he was catastrophizing about to the receptionist. He eventually left; we still don’t know who he was or what happened. It was only later we took it more seriously.

It wasn’t the end of the story, but something that happened earlier led to that bursting through the doors. It was a balloon incident. This isn’t part of the story but it creates cohesion with one of the people in line. With a bouquet of lilies. She was next and the top of her cheek bones looked sore, the bags underneath her eyes puffy and raw red. At the top of her lashes was residue in small coal-like clumps that just hung on. It appeared to be left after the rest wiped off. Or were a result of tears for some personally explicable reason. Her talk withered, the eventual pauses were frail at the end as if she was overwhelmed by what the day had already brought her. We all knew what happened. It was in the paper. Her husband died, falling to what was his inevitable end. He held onto a balloon that flew away with a child inside. Somehow thinking back, the flushed man looked familiar. An odd feeling he was somehow a part of this loss. And maybe who he was yelling at too.
‘Cu-Could have a-anything be done? Eh-anything?’ The receptionist responded with disappointing news that nothing could have been done to help Logan. To think saving a child resulted in a death. The receptionist apologized for what had happened him. It wasn’t her fault though. Nor was it the wife’s, but somehow it’s the only thing we’re able to say. The widow then kept asking if someone came by to see him. Another woman. I don’t think anyone took notice of the apprehension in her voice. I knew there was something she was fishing to hear, to want to hear so she wasn’t just seeing things. The agitation would have been from the rumours that she had been searching for someone that was with her husband that day, that he had the feeling of gravity for this other person. I do say person. She left after asking questions that obviously couldn’t be answered.

Jen and I looked to one another and our mind was one. It was as if we knew everything in this room, and now in this position I wish I had done something. The chair clamped me down and only left my thoughts floating. If only both of us had been aware of the two men in black. And their faces hidden in back hoods.

We didn’t have any time to say anything else though, because suddenly our eardrums burst from the fire of a bullet. This was a pin that now exploded the timeline, and the chain of events still missing obvious links. Someone got shot. One of the hooded bodies swivelled out of the queue, through the right door that was now the left and the other followed. Another fire was shot outside. The man who was trapped in line tried to leave by the other door. The one that had a sign saying it was locked. No one had time to react. Everyone had their own ‘dazed’ face. Someone had their hands covering the mouth; another was jumping out of their chair. It was an emotion circus. Jen and I joined in, baffled that we witnessed a murder. Sirens were ringing and fired a jet of noise into our ears. The wounded man was taken out through the open door and to A&E. It was the anxious man from earlier, but this time with blood trickling down his shoulder. And he was gasping for oxygen. At this point I didn’t believe it was attempted murder. We then heard shouting. A police officer was having to drag away another man that shot through the door, calling out the injured man’s name and what seemed to be an apology. He nearly tripped over my chair.
‘JO-JO! You led me to this Joe! I’ll never forget you, our love will be forever. God wanted you and me to be us! We’ll find each other again!’
He was hanging by one arm to the door, presumably hoping to see Joe, but the officer was pulling his other arm back into cuffs. This man. Must be him, the guy that earlier Joe was yelling to through the door. To see this man’s face now, he appeared remorseful, guilt ridden. And his features showed that love’s gravity was tripping him up; that he had fallen for Joe. I hypothesize: this wasn’t a mutual love.

It was the butterfly feeling that urged me to hold Jen’s hand, but she got there first. The idea of holding someone in a life and death moment made the shock less. Now everyone waiting felt as if they were waiting for something else, something unexpected. The death cast gloom over us and the white walls which now I looked closer were more of pale beige, speckled with grey from the humidity. The cracks were showing more clearly. In my moment of weakness that I shared with Jen; I kissed her. Nothing more, nothing said, just that.
The minutes stretched to what felt like hours [with just talking yet nothing said to what happened]. But again we both knew what the next step would be…

Sadly, I was interrupted. Catherine had finished, and did I just imagine five people when there were only four? She was with someone.
‘James, this is Nurse Karmen, she’ll take you to your room. I’ll visit next week, who were you talking to?’
I found that there was no-one beside me: Just me in an old chair. The one beside me no sign of an imprint. No recollection of people seeing me with someone. I know now, why I was waiting…

If you want to read the commentary I had to write for my reading piece, then continue if you want. But if you do, you commit to it and deal with the weird way it’s written. It essentially explains the way I have written the piece and my influences from the book.

My short story influenced by ‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan is about a man in a waiting room watching events unravel in front of him including those waiting in line who are all characters and events from the book [‘ widow then kept asking if someone came by to see him’]. He shares this with his ideal woman but readers realise at the end she doesn’t exist [‘who are you talking to?’]. The story stands alone but also creates intertextual links for those who have read ‘Enduring Love’.
The title ‘Missed’ is slightly punning like ‘Enduring Love’, and connotes being missed, have something/one physically missing and a missed shot (as in Chapter 19/ the waiting room).
The first person narrative reflects Joe is narrator in the book and is aIso unreliable narration [‘I can’t remember how it actually started’], pinpointing time of events [‘it started/this was a pin to the timeline of this day’] also used as a metaphor for cohesion throughout and often going at a tangent [‘they were small windows, possibly larger than very small’] reflecting realistic spoken features but also the unreliability. I linked to Joe’s character with the lexical field of science and logical thinking [‘less than substantial in a solid structure/ irregular pressure’]. Like Joe’s, cataphoric links are made to the story James is trying to tell [‘if I knew it was that hazardous I wouldn’t have sat there’] and writing a meta-fictional narrative. [‘Best to pace myself here’] to develop tension and involve the reader.
The whole story develops elements of the Chapter 19 shooting, placing them in a new story. Intertextual link to Logan’s widow, looking for the mistress but it might not be a woman (could it be Joe?)[‘I do say person’] includes the connotation of death with her holding ‘lilies’, foreshadowing the balloon incident.
I wanted to linked Joe’s relationship with Clarissa into James’s ideal woman by having ‘Jen’ imagined because that is all she can be [‘Catherine was exaggerated in Jen’s physique’].
Further intertextuality with the book by having James and Jen talk briefly about [‘unravelling of three characters after a balloon incident’] also foreshadowing James’ ‘unravelling’ sanity using the declarative sentence ‘it was a balloon incident’ foregrounds the interlinked reality for James.
As McEwan has done, I have included clues to event that readers don’t notice at [‘four or five people’] to suggest James lost perception of reality, the obsession with the door (lexical link to Joe’s obsession with the balloon) and the ‘cracks in the ceiling’ (connoted physically and in James’ dawning realisation). Obsessive reworking of detail also reflects the book and film.
The twist that James imagines things foreshadows the ‘cracks appearing’ in his narrative and life, the walls ‘more of pale beige’ symbolizes his viewpoint too. The last words answer the question he first asks [‘who are you talking to/I know now why I was waiting’] but the answer is only implied, allowing interpretation for the reader, like the open ending of ‘Enduring Love’.

Please let me know what you did like, didn’t like and anything else, bearing in mind I am trying to imitate a style not necessarily my own and it was written two years ago.