Author: Ian McEwan
First Published: 1997
After witnessing a freak hot air balloon accident, Joe Rose never imagined his life would become haunted by another witness who becomes obsessed with him.
Joe Rose was enjoying a picnic with his long-term girlfriend Clarissa when the disaster happened. Racing to help a man wrestling with a hot air balloon with his terrified grandson inside, Joe cannot guess of the fatal catastrophe soon to follow. But the death of an innocent man is only the beginning. When Joe watched the death of John Logan, he never imagined that the man standing next to him, Jed Parry, was about to ruin his orderly life forever.
The evening after the accident Parry phones Joe and proclaims his love for him. Thinking nothing of it, Joe hangs up and pushes the call to the back of his mind. Parry, however, becomes more and more determined and begins constantly phoning, writing to and stalking Joe. Joe finds himself becoming more and more unnerved by Parry’s bizarre and obsessive behaviour, but with the police and even his girlfriend unable to believe him, even the reader begins to doubt the truth in Joe’s tale. Just as you begin to doubt Joe’s sanity, a close call between life and death hints that Parry’s love may just turn deadly. Fearing for his life, Joe invests in some protection of an illegal nature, but shortly after, he discovers that his life is not the one that hangs in the balance.
McEwan has a fantastic ability to build pace, which he flaunts in the very first chapter in the novel. He controls time effortlessly, making it speed up or slow down seamlessly, which hints at what might be coming. Deviations between random thoughts, observations and drifts of everyday conversation ensure you that something dangerous is lurking just out of sight, and really draws you in to the story. As you start to doubt Joe’s sanity you become convinced that you have already figured out McEwan’s ending, which then twists suddenly and unexpectedly, making the story even more gripping. McEwan’s way with words really compels you to read on due to the sheer beauty of the phrases and observations. A love story that almost brushes with tragedy, this novel is unlike any other. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone out there who wants to try something new.
Favourite quote: ‘This was the moment, this was the pinprick on the time map: I was stretching out my hand, and as the cool neck and the black foil touched my palm, we heard a man’s shout.’