“Enduring Love” is said to be a book about contradicting the standards of literature, blurring the reader’s perceptions of characterisation and narrative trust. Through various shifts in narrator McEwan portrays Jed Parry in various lights to suggest that our perception may not always be trustworthy, and we are often too trusting of the opinions of others.
McEwan chooses to tantalise his readers’ perceptions of Jed Parry from the outset. In the first chapter we learn only basic details about him, such as the fact that “he was twenty-eight, unemployed, living on an inheritance in Hampstead”, a description whose embellishment lies beyond the next ten chapters. However, with comments such as “knowing what I know now, its odd to evoke the figure of Jed Parry ahead of me”, it appears that McEwan has erected a literary signpost, provoking the reader to at least consider, if not to make assumptions about, Parry’s character. The contradictory description of his physique leads to further curiosity about Jed, as is the intermittent nature of his speech, where Joe notes “what was so exhausting about him was the variety of his emotional states and the speed of their transitions”. As a result McEwan lures us through the rest of the novel as, like Joe, our need for an explanation for Parry’s curious behaviour deepens.
The juxtaposition of Parry’s apparently strong religious beliefs with Joe’s atheism is a starting position for an “explosion of consequences”, for not only does it spark disaster, but also raises various home truths for the novel’s principal narrator. As we learn through out the novel, “Parry’s belief was a self-made affair” as whilst he has some knowledge of the bible with reference to the tests of Job, it seems that his religion is totally internalised. In effect, God for him as becomes a function of his own mind. Indeed when pieced together with the presentation of Parry as an outsider, McEwan presents an authentic image of a man who, rejected by society, has created something with which he feels exceptional and with purpose. In his words he is a “messenger” of God. This purpose becomes clear at the balloon accident where he uses God as a justification for his attraction to Joe, therefore making it appear that “he was looking…like a man blessed with love”. Claiming that they have “come together for a purpose…to bring [Joe] to God”, the obsessive nature of de Clï¿½rambaut’s syndrome leads to Parry casting Joe in the role of, or even above, God, hence his references to Joe as somewhat omnipotent, for example in stating “if you forgive me, God will too”. In his mind Parry believes that God, a definite being, is consenting to the attraction as it is fulfilling his purpose, when in reality it is God fulfilling Parry’s needs.
This faith which Parry holds can be volatile, for example when he sees Joe’s past articles as a personal attack, stating “I didn’t know you wrote out of contempt”. Here Parry does not only sound threatening, but also contrary, as he now casts himself in the role of God with words such as “you don’t have the power to command me…Never deny my reality”, which resolves what could previously be dismissed as attention-seeking behaviour. Parry’s persistence for Joe to pray by the body of John Logan is again a trait that later proves to be volatile, for example when Parry hires hit men. He will do whatever it takes for Joe to accept him. This leads the reader to perceive Parry as rather obsessive in his actions, as he appears absolutely relentless, despite Joe’s patent denial of love.
Interestingly, McEwan uses Parry’s obsession to offset Joe’s own paranoid quest to dissect the character of Jed Parry. This begins when on the sighting of “something red” Joe hastily jumps to the conclusion that Parry wants to murder him. It is here that we witness the beginnings of a gradual destabilisation of Joe’s own rational persona, with warnings to the reader that “the power and attractions of narrative had clouded judgement”. This deepens when Joe shifts from the rational thought that his priority was to save his marriage to the need to discover more about de Clï¿½rambaut’s. In his own words, Joe states “the name was like a fanfare…calling me to my own obsessions…it was the Frenchman in the double-breasted suit that intrigued me now”. Indeed Parry’s enduring love has become like “the viral spores invading [Joe’s] home”. Now much like Jed Parry’s twisted view of God, our main narrator has lost his judicious perspective. Another parallel which may be drawn here is in ‘Clarissa’s’ comment that that Joe’s research rejections are his “protection from failure because they will never let him in”. This way, Joe can always believe that he could have succeeded, and there is no chance that he will ever fail as he will never have tried. Similarly, with his letters Parry can believe that Joe reads and responds to them even though his love was never actually reciprocated.
The majority view holds that religion and science often express conflicting views on life. However here McEwan sets out to dispel this convention by drawing together his two representatives of either party. Despite surface discrepancies such as Joe’s atheism and Parry’s ‘God’, and the use of visual barriers, for example when Joe sees Parry “stuck there” on a traffic island cursing Joe, the way in which the two express themselves appears inevitably to draw them together. McEwan’s choice of language is often the most distinctive sign of this. One need only look at the first sentence of Parry’s first letter to see terms such as “I feel happiness running through me like an electric current”, or when Joe hopes for “some phenomenon” to save John Logan. It is also true that whilst Parry holds a belief in a God, Joe himself has a strong faith in science, using it to rationalise such emotional issues as his marriage, which he refers to as “an ancient carriage clock”, something which, although is complex, can be regulated and controlled.
More profoundly though, and perhaps still somewhat unconventionally for modern times, in his second letter Parry speaks of how science can compliment religious belief, with thought-provoking comments such as “the study and measurement of nature is really nothing more than a form of extended prayer”. In remarks such as this, which we only see when McEwan displays Parry through his own words, we are persuaded to think that Parry is not the madman Joe perceives him to be. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Parry can speak in a controlled, uninterrupted manner through his letters that we can begin to sympathise with him. He seems like a threat through Joe’s eyes but intelligent through his own. In fact, in his creative whirlwind, he manages to make some insightful comments about Joe himself, such as labelling him as being in a “cage of reason”, and highlighting his relentless faith in science with “that’s why you fight it so hard with your education and reason and logic and this detached way you have of talking”. These at the least act as hints to the reader, provoking them to question their narrative trust, and that Joe’s own version of event is subjective. It should also be noted, however, that when scientific discoveries counter his beliefs he is reluctant to accept them, for example when he states “the best minds in the world would rather die than presume so much” this may also seem rather hypocritical, as many, like Joe, would argue that most theists do this in holding a belief in God.
Logan parallels rotting cloth “can faith really depend upon a length of rotting cloth?
Throughout the novel, McEwan delivers details to suggest that the character of Jed Parry is much like that of John Keats. Both are spiritual beings from humble backgrounds that are rejected and also the objects of unrequited admiration. Just before the shooting Joe delivers an account of a conversation on Wordsworth and Keats, in which the former “[was] unable to endure any longer the young man’s adoration…[and delivered a response that was] unfeeling and unworthy of his High Genius to a Worshipper like Keats – and Keats felt it deeply-and never forgave him”. This subtle analogy aptly mirrors the reasons for Parry’s consequent actions, casting him in the role of Keats and Joe in that of Wordsworth.
Possibly the most concurrent of these links is that of the letters. We hear in the first chapter that Clarissa has just returned from a search for rare letters of John Keats in order to discover more about his life, which acts as a foreboding for the actions Joe will take on Parry’s letters. These letters supposedly speak of an unrequited love, something that Parry goes on to hold for Joe. In reference to these letters we are told, “it was easy to imagine him writing a letter he never intended to send”, a line that is equally applicable to Jed Parry on reading Appendix II. In addition, whilst Keats is “in remission” for a physical illness at he start of the book, Jed Parry has been placed in am mental institute at the end, suggesting a somewhat circular element to the novel, in keeping with the fact that Parry’s love endures and that Joe and Clarissa are beginning to find “a route back into that happiness”.
It is also interesting that Joe foolishly states “Clarissa Mellon was also in love with another man” in reference to her obsession with Keats, when it is Joe’s apparent obsession with Parry that seems to draw them apart. Even when Parry has been taken out of their lives after the ultimate invasion of physically entering his home, the couple are still left with many unresolved issues, and it appears that Parry was just a catalyst for an inevitable realisation that the couple were never really in “Paradise” to begin with. We feel that we are hearing McEwan’s words rather than Joe’s when we read “the narrative compression of storytelling…beguiles us with happy endings into forgetting that sustained stress is corrosive of feeling”. By only including the stereotypical happy ending in the appendix, the fate of these characters rests to some extent on the choice of the reader, as the appendices of books are not usually assumed to add much to the plot.
With his portrayal of Jed Parry, Ian McEwan is trying to achieve more than just a thrilling read. In giving us this ending in the form of a scientific report, not only is implying definite closure on the novel, but also enhancing the fact that rationale defeated romanticism. Beyond this, he seems to be proposing that despite facades, we are all the same as each other. We all have an element of “human sameness” that is in-built into our society. Therefore “Enduring Love”, and the portrayal of Jed Parry in particular, leads us to pontificate whether there are any so-called oddities or just misunderstood people? It appears that more than one element of social convention is being challenged here.