History: A book written in 1997.
Plot: On a beautiful, cloudless day, a young couple celebrate their union with a picnic. Joe Rose and his long-term partner Clarissa Mellon are about to open a bottle of wine when a cry interrupts them. A helium balloon with a 10-year-old boy in the basket and his grandfather being dragged behind it has been ripped from its moorings. Joe immediately joins, along with several other men, in an effort to bring the balloon to safety, but in the rescue attempt, one man, John Logan, dies.
Another of the would-be-rescuers is Jed Parry. Joe and Jed exchange a passing glance, a glance that has devastating consequences and that indelibly burns an obsession into Jed's soul, for Jed suffers from de Clerambault's syndrome, a disorder that causes the sufferer to believe that someone else is in love with him or her. Delusional and dangerous, Jed gradually wreaks havoc in Joe's life, testing the limits of his beloved rationalism, threatening Clarissa's love for him, and driving him to the brink of murder and madness.
During a lunch with Clarissa and her godfather, Joe witnesses the attempted shooting of another man. However, he realises that the bullet was meant for him and that the similar character of the people at the other table had misled the killers into thinking the other man was their target. Before the hitman can deliver the fatal shot, Jed, orchestrator of the event, intervenes to save the innocent man's life before fleeing from the scene. In the subsequent interrogation, Joe insists that it was Jed who was behind this but the detective does not believe him, possibly because he appears to get many of the facts of the incident incorrect. Joe leaves dissatisfied, knowing that Jed is still out there and looking for him. Like the detective, however, Clarissa becomes skeptical that Jed is stalking Joe and that Joe is in any danger. This, plus the stress Joe suffers at Jed's hands, strains their relationship.
Fearing for his safety, Joe purchases a gun through an acquaintance. On the journey home, he receives a call from Jed, who is at Joe's home with Clarissa. Upon arriving at his apartment, Joe sees Jed sitting on the sofa with Clarissa. Jed then asks for Joe's forgiveness, before taking out a knife and pointing it at his own neck. To prevent Jed from killing himself, Joe shoots him in the arm. He escapes without charges. In the first of the novel's appendices (a medical report on Jed's condition) we learn that Joe and Clarissa are eventually reconciled and that they adopt a child. In the second (a letter from Jed to Joe), we learn that after three years, Parry remains uncured, and is now living in a psychiatric hospital.
Review: It's a meditation on the nature of love, with the relationship of Joe and Clarissa described in ultra realistic if somehow dry and subtle terms. The sequences of events leading to conflict, the inevitability of misunderstanding, the inscrutability of emotions, the birth of mistrust, and - of course - the fundamental and unavoidable self-centeredness of love.
In many ways, the obsessive 'love' of the stalker who 'knows better than you what you feel' is a parody of our 'normal' romantic love, it's a monstrous mirror but a mirror nevertheless. How many times do we find ourselves believing that gestures mean more than words, that there is a deeper meaning in everything, that our beloved, or God for that matter can speak to us in signs
Opening Line: The beginning is simple to mark.
Closing Line: Say it again slowly, that thing about the river.
Quotes: “the relentless plainsong of the divorce novitiate - the pained self-advocacy that hymns the transmutations of love into hatred or indifference.”