The Frontal Cortex

McEwan, Nabokov and Fake Science

Ian McEwan is mischievous. He ends Enduring Love – a novel about a science writer – with a carefully faked psychiatric study from a non-existent British medical journal. Although the syndrome discussed in the article is real – De Clerambault’s Syndrome is the delusional belief that someone else is in love with you – the particulars are all pretend. And yet, when Enduring Love was first released, most critics assumed that the journal article was, in fact, the inspiration for the novel. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, a former book critics for the New York Times, even went so far as to complain that “When you discover at the end of the book an appendix documenting the case history on which ‘Enduring Love’ is based, you think you know what is wrong. Mr. McEwan has simply stuck too close to the facts and failed to allow his imagination to invent.”

I bet that McEwan’s inspiration for this academic ruse was the Foreward to Lolita, written by “John Ray, Ph.D”. Nabokov had a long-standing grudge against all things Freudian, and he uses the Forward to mock the stilted vocabulary and vague theories of psychoanalysis. John Ray (1627-1705), by the way, was an English naturalist who helped pioneer botanical classification. Nabokov was familiar with the work of Ray through his lepidopterist research.

Via Mind Hacks


  1. #1 alice
    November 29, 2007

    I’ve heard that McEwan used the idea of game theory in the first scene with the balloon.

    All those people hanging on, were said to be in a classic prisoner’s dilemma.

    That is one of the best scenes I have ever read in my life.

    The rest of the book paled in comparison.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    November 29, 2007

    Nabokov also pulled a “Sokal Hoax” back in 1939. He invented a fake poet, “Vasiliy Shishkov”, and when a famous literary critic of Berlin’s Russian emigré community praised Shishkov’s work (the man hated Nabokov’s), he published a short story in which he, Nabokov, met Vasiliy Shishkov and was entrusted with Shishkov’s notebook. The poet, afflicted with melancholy, had decided to “dissolve” himself in his own work.

  3. #3 Anonymous
    April 19, 2009

    But Nabokov was mocking Psychoanalysis and McEwan complicitly abides the paradygm of case studies. Isn’t there a difference? Isn’t one a kind of seeing through and another mentally lazy?

New comments have been disabled.