In this chapter, Ian McEwan really pulls out all the stops in authoring terms, to capture the reader entirely and drag them into the near-real images conjured up in this opening. Ian McEwan uses first person narrative to open the piece, and we are immediately introduced to the narrator, Joe, one of the men struggling to hold down the balloon, this is only the beginning of the nightmare.
In the opening pages of McEwan’s profoundly affective use of narrative, several men struggle to hold down a hot air balloon that threatens to break free, carrying a small child with it. One by one they let go, until one man is left hanging and is carried off to drop shortly to his death. For McEwan’s narrator, this has obviously become a life-changing day.
The chapter begins with the picnic. Joe and his long-term girlfriend Clarissa have come out from their presumably hectic lifestyles to spend a day in the countryside, welcoming clarissa’s return. McEwan slowly gives the reader snippets of information, like flashbacks perhaps, and manipulates the reader to such great extents that by page four, one is already pulling at the lead to find out where this strange encounter is going.
The narrator describes his visit to Heathrow to collect Clarissa and how he watched reunions between old friends and families in the airport. The pace of the story then slows down drastically while yet again, the narrator takes time to elucidate in great detail the surrounding countryside; the mood becomes tranquil. Toward the end of page eight, Joe finally plucks up the courage to describe the ordeal in its completeness. Clarissa and Joe see a huge grey balloon, and the alleged pilot of the balloon whose leg had been entangled in the ropes. In the basket there was a child. Joe begins to run toward this disaster instinctively and is joined by several others: John Logan, Joseph Lacey, Toby Greene and Jed Parry. He describes each man in turn with a short background preface, except for Jed.
When the men reach the balloon the struggle to tame it begins; the wind becomes strong and eventually they are lifted off the ground. As the situation becomes more desperate, one by one, they let go of the rope. Joe makes it clear that he was not the first to let go, but after the adrenaline and bravery slowly wore off, Joe begins to explain that this child was not his, and that it was a stupid thing to try and save him by putting his own life at risk. However one man, John Logan, hung on. With around six hundred pounds shed from the balloon and the wind in full force, the balloon ejected upward. In the latter part of the chapter, Joe describes the deterioration of John’s situation, and his eventual yet implausible fall from the rope.
Throughout the chapter we slowly pick up on the narrators persona via sub-plot and use of science in particular. There are frequent associations made by Joe between the surrounding circumstances and familiar sciences. One comes to the conclusion after this chapter that perhaps Joe feels security in science, in this rational and mathematical way of thought, yet in this circumstantial horror, such thoughts make this character come off as extremely insensitive.