Science writer Joe Rose is spending a day in the country with his long-time lover, Clarissa, when he witnesses a tragic accident–a balloon with a boy trapped in it is being tossed by the wind, and, in an attempt to save the child, a man is killed. As though that isn’t disturbing enough, a man named Jed Parry, who has joined Rose in helping to bring the balloon to safety, believes that something has passed between him and Rose–something that sparks in Parry a deranged, obsessive kind of love.
Soon Parry is stalking Rose, who turns to science to try to understand the situation.
Parry apparently suffers from a condition known to psychiatrists as de Clerambault Syndrome, in which the afflicted individual obsessively pursues the object of his desire until the frustrated love turns to hate and rage–transforming one of life’s most valued experiences into pathological horror. As Rose grows more paranoid and terrified, as his treasured relationship with Clarissa breaks under the tension of his fear, Rose realizes that he needs to find something beyond the cold reasoning of science if this love is to be endured.
With the cool brilliance and deep compassion that defined his best novels (The Comfort of Strangers, The Innocent), Ian McEwan has once again spun a tale of life intruded upon by shocks of violence-and discovered profound truths about the nature of love and the power of forgiveness.