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McEwan Builds Tension and Suspense in the First Five Chapters of “Enduring Love” Essay Sample

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McEwan Builds Tension and Suspense in the First Five Chapters of “Enduring Love” Essay Sample

The first five chapters of Enduring Love are crucial to the setting of the story and build tension in the reader, making them want to read the rest of the novel.

McEwan uses Joe’s trains of thought and narrative to build up suspense and tension. We don’t just read the story as it happened but rather learn about the events bit by bit as Joe retells the accident. The whole story is told not just for the reader but for himself as well so it is with hindsight that Joe tells the story, filling in the gaps for himself and giving clues to the reader. There are many examples of these “thriller” style clues, particularly in the first two chapters.

” whose car…..with its door, or doors wide open”

This comment would clearly not be made unless it had some reference to the story to come, as it seems to be explored in the kind of detail which would only be necessary with retrospective knowledge. This adds an element of excitement and tension which drives you to read on and find out the relevance of the comment.

McEwan denies information to the reader when Joe is retelling what happened so there are pieces of the puzzle still missing which need to be filled in later on, building up tension. An example of this is after the accident; the reader doesn’t know what has happened to the boy in the balloon’s basket, information that is not given until page 32:

“The boy, Harry Gadd, turned out to be unharmed”

McEwan manages to drag this out almost painfully for the reader until this point where he releases this first bit of information about the result of the accident, in order to keep the attention of the reader without losing the sense of tension.

McEwan uses this method of with holding vital information in another slightly different way, to create suspense,

“The encounter that would unhinge us was minutes away,”

Joe is building up the suspense leading to the description of this huge event, but doesn’t just say what is in store for him or the other characters. He also hints that the disaster is life changing,

“This was the last time that I understood anything clearly at all.”

This creates suspense because it is described in such a dramatic way, causing the reader to wonder what it is that was so significant about the event. He also indirectly addresses the reader in chapter 3;

“”This is just the beginning”, I promised, “stick around””

Although this is said to Clarissa, it also gives a hint to the reader that there is a lot more of the story to come, creating suspense.

The reader can sense Joe’s tension as he retells the story by the vocabulary he uses. He uses short, simple sentences like “the beginning is simple to mark” as if he is trying to sort his head out and only say what he knows is definitely true. He does this again at the beginning of chapter two, “Best to slow down”, as if he’s going too fast for himself. He uses a similar phrase to the first; “I’ve already marked my beginning”, as if to remind himself what he has already said. This seems to be more for his own benefit than for the reader’s, and gives us a good idea about how tense he is feeling. This tension is clear throughout these chapters and the reader feels it whilst reading them.

In the first five chapters, McEwan portrays Joe as quite a weak character who finds his feelings hard to deal with. This is shown particularly by the way he avoids telling the story of the accident at the beginning of chapter one. He moves the narrative back to earlier in the day or tries to make sense of what happened by using the image of the buzzard to get a different perspective, before eventually telling the story of what happened very quickly, as if wanting to get it over with. The reader wants to get past Joe’s narration and find out how the other characters are feeling,

“Clarissa’s tears were no more than a fact”

The reader wants to see what other people think and to look at the events from their point of view, but is never allowed to, creating tension and frustration but compelling them to read on. Later in the novel, there are doubts as to how near to the truth what he says is, for example his relationship with Jed Parry, it is possible that he could be exaggerating or missing out details of certain events. This idea of not being sure that what your narrator is telling you is the complete truth helps to build up suspense and uncertainty about the facts.

By the end of chapter five, Jed Parry has been identified as a significant figure, at least in Joe’s mind, although there is still a lot to be learnt about what his motives are. Joe seems quite irrational during the scene in the library, (or maybe too rational, p33, “you’re like a child”) when he follows someone out who may be wearing trainers similar to Parry’s;

“a flash of white shoe and something red”

Although there are signs from early on that Parry is a slightly disturbing character, e.g. after the accident when Jed says he has been talking to Clarissa,

“She had said nothing to him about me”

the reader doesn’t know whether Joe is right to be suspicious at this point, and there is a need to know more about these characters and their relationship. This creates more suspense and tension for the reader.

By looking at these points I would conclude that one of McEwan’s main purposes and successes when writing these chapters was to build up suspense and tension as by the end of this section the reader is completely absorbed by the story and the many unsolved issues raised at the beginning of the novel.

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