Joe and Clarissa are picnicking when they hear cries from a hot air balloon that was descending nearby. The man controlling it had tried to get out, the rope had caught round his leg and it was rising again dragging him with it. A few men converge on the balloon, grabbing hold of the ropes hanging down to try to hold it down, but one by one they drop off. One man, John Logan, hangs on for as long as he can before he drops off at a height that can only be fatal. They rush to him to see if they can help, but it is too late.
In this intense moment, the other man who got to the body at the same time asks him to pray about the situation, but Joe flatly refuses. Jed Parry though is a man possessed, he thinks that something has passed between him and Joe and in the moment that they shared that Joe has fallen deeply in love with him. He thinks nothing more of it and heads home but is slightly disturbed when he receives the first phone call from Parry at 2 am. From this moment Parry begins stalking Joe, writing letters to him, leaving countless messages on his answerphone and standing outside his flat. Joe is severely unnerved by it and Clarissa thinks he is losing his mind but the police aren’t interested as he has done nothing wrong
He meets with Parry briefly, but it only exacerbates the situation. Pushed to that absolute limit, Joe snaps and sets about taking matters into his own hands. Then he gets a phone call from Clarissa; Parry is with her and wants Joe to come home to talk.
McEwan has written a book about those suffering from de Clerambault’s syndrome a delusional disorder where an individual thinks that person is infatuated with him or her, thankfully it is rare, but as McEwan does in this book when coupled it with religious fervour, it has a deeply sinister edge. There is plenty of tension in the plot as Parry becomes more extreme in his actions to be with Joe. It is very creepy, as McEwan manages to convey just how disturbing stalking is for any victim of it. There are a couple of sub-plots that really didn’t add much to the story either. However, there were several details that I couldn’t get along with, in the book; I didn’t quite understand as all these men ran to save the balloon with the child in, how they knew each other almost immediately, the balloon is described as a helium balloon later in the book too. Not bad, but could have been so much better.