“Enduring Love” by Ian McEwan, is novel about how the life of a calm and rational science writer is massively disrupted, after he became part of a tragic accident involving a hot air balloon. McEwan centres the book on a real mental condition; called De Clerambault’s Syndrome, which the character Parry supposedly has. The book also has many sub-plots, such as Joe’s life and relationship with his partner, Clarissa.
The opening chapter of the novel draws the reader into the story straight away. We are introduced to the narrator/Joe and his partner Clarissa, they are in a field; having a picnic, when the pivotal event of the story takes place.
The mood is romantic and elegant, as a result of the language used:
“This moment was the pinprick on the time map: I was stretching out my hand as the cool neck of the black foil touched my palm, we heard a mans shout.”
The above line sounds very intimate, because of the in depth description of a simple action. Also the rationality of the first line is covered by the romantic mood. When in fact it is a very cool and almost scientific phrase, which seems out of place in the romantic setting, it also sounds very ominous. It suggests a point in time that Joe is reflecting on, a time of happiness, which was never to return. Incidentally this is when we are told of the balloon accident.
This first paragraph gives us clues to Joe’s character. From the narrative language we get the impression that Joe is a very scientific man, and that he has a job in science. Later on in the novel we find out that he is in fact a science journalist. The build up to the description of the balloon accident, also reveals a lot about Joes life. He lives in a flat with Clarissa, whom he has been with for seven years. After he has met her after their separation of six weeks, he describes how he is “elated by our reunion”. We get the distinct impression that Joe is happy with his life. This fact is emphasised when he talks of her work, and how she investigates the Love poetry of John Keats. He goes on to say how he can hardly believe his luck at having such beautiful woman “who wanted to be loved by a large, clumsy, balding fellow..” This highlights a self-consciousness which Joe may feel, but also in the romantic sense how lucky he feels. This is where Joe’s contentment for life is very evident to the reader.
Next we are described the developing events of the balloon accident. The end result is that a man; John Logan, died in his attempts to save a young boy who was trapped in the hot air balloon basket. Joe’s life from this point onwards begins to change dramatically, not only from the shock of the accident, but also because of unpredictable events, which were a result of his and others, involvement in the tragic accident.
Chapter 1 highlights parts of Joe’s character that show us how he deals with aspects of his life. He takes comfort and finds security in the logic of science. He is a very logical man, who needs evidence and reasons for why things happen. He has a very detached way of looking at things, because it is Joes defence mechanism against “messy experiences”. He can bury these messy experiences, such as not having children, under a blanket of scientific knowledge. This shows that Joe is a very organized man, who likes order. However there are times when Joe’s rational thinking has its limits. This is when Joe’s scientific knowledge falls apart, for instance when he fails to understand how and why love letters are written. When Joes stops theorising he feels as much as the rest of us, and at times seems to be caught out by his emotions. A prime example of this is when Joe is waiting to meet Clarissa as she gets off the plane. Whilst waiting he observes peoples reactions to friends and family.
” Observing human variety can give pleasure, but so too can human sameness.”
The above line highlights how Joe at times would like to let go of his detached way of life, and be like everyone else, with a sense of belonging.
During Chapter 3, Joe and Clarissa talk of the accident. They tell each other of the different feeling each of them had at the point when John Logan fell to his death.
At this point in the story the couple seem very close. Clarissa begins her account of how he fell, and tells of how she wanted angels to “gather the falling man” She embodies a traditional religious idea. In contrast Joe willed for an up current of air to stop Logan from falling. This implies Joe is an atheist, which compliments his scientific outlook. In the same chapter we see Joe’s first signs of guilt .On page 29 he talks of his first feeling of sickness, as a result of his guilt. But he immediately tries to rationalise with himself, by showing himself his rope-burned hands. This is his way of telling himself that he did make a conscious effort to hold onto the balloon. Near the end of chapter 3, we see the first signs of Joe’s gradual loss of rationality. Whilst telling his story, he loses control, and includes too many metaphors and mixing up too many images, this is unlike Joe, as he has the unconscious habit of looking and analysing things in a very logical manner. As well as being quite articulate. This is done deliberately by McEwan to highlight the fact that Joe is losing control slightly.
The introduction of Parry into Joe’s life is another point at when Joe begins to change. When Parry and Joe talk to each other they speak like they are in a soap opera, very over the top and dramatised. This again is unlike Joe. Joe can’t just walk away from Parry, as he needs to de-mystify him. Otherwise Joe knows that it will gradually take over his mind. Gradually we, the reader are seeing faults in Joes over rationality and need for evidence. As they make him obsess over things which should be left behind.
In Chapter 6 we see a role reversal with Joe and Clarissa. She seems very rational, whereas Joe seems very temperamental and unreasonable. They are talking about Joes feeling that Parry was following him. When Clarissa is cautious of Joes accusations against Parry, she applies the strict principles of logic, which Joe obviously could not do as he was in an irrational state of mind. This becomes a regular occurrence when Joe and Jed are together.
Joe’s life is gradually unnerved by Parry’s existence, his behaviour changes from rational, to an irrational paranoia over Parry. His spontaneous and unexplainable actions do not help his case against Parry, and instead focus the attention on his out of the ordinary behaviour. Joe makes mistakes that make Clarissa, and the reader doubt his claims of harassment. For instance deleting the 30 messages, which Parry left him on their answering machine. Which would have been sufficient evidence for anyone who wanted it. If Joe had been in his usual state of mind he would have known this. This highlights how Parry is gradually getting to Joe, the more and more they communicate.