Joe Rose, scientific author and journalist, and our first-person narrator claims that the "beginning" of this story "is simple to mark". However, the following events appear anything but simple. Whilst enjoying a picnic with his long-term (seven years now) partner Clarissa Mellon, a literature academic and Keats scholar, a ballooning accident occurs - a catastrophe for virtually all those involved.
Immediately Joe runs to help the pilot, James Gadd and his son Harry as they fail to bring the balloon under control. Joe is joined by several other strapping men; Joseph Lacey and Toby Greene, farm labourers; John Logan, a fit doctor and the fateful Jed Parry. Winds lift the balloon up, only Harry is inside, he's young, he's urinating and he'll be in trouble if the others let go of the ropes holding the balloon down, which is what they do. Cue for much macho guilt re: who let go first, especially as John Logan doesn't let go at all and so floats up high till he can hold no longer and from a distance that's far too high he falls.
Joe feels important, "a kind of self-love", sees Jed Parry is in 'shock' and so decides to hold his gaze, including Jed in Joe's own "self-congratulatory warmth" at being alive. Bad move Joe. This is where his personal catastrophe may 'begin', simply or otherwise. Joe decides to visit Logan's body. It's dead, he feels sick, Jed joins him and suggests that "we could ... pray together?". Joe's a good atheist, he refuses despite Jed's persistence and slightly disturbing mixture of joy and pity at rejection. That night, Joe and Clarissa retell their stories, we learn that Clarissa is barren but has great "frustrated love" for children. They find sex a comfort then the phone rings. Jed tells Joe he loves him. Joe makes his "first serious mistake" as he tells Clarissa it's a wrong number.
Next day, Joe and Clarissa lose themselves in work. Joe thinks he's being followed at the library - or is he deluding himself? However, we learn Jed has rung the flat again. Joe unplugs the phone so he and Clarissa can enjoy each other's company.
The day after Joe tells Clarissa about Jed's call, she laughs at first but is not impressed when he mentions how he feels 'followed'. She leaves, Jed calls again, this time from the phone box at the end of Joe's road and reluctantly Joe agrees to meet. All Jed's whining words suggest Joe is hiding 'real' feelings for him, which he's pretending not to know about or is unconscious of. He accuses Joe of playing games with him. Joe gets into a cab, but not before Jed asks for a meeting between the three of them - Clarissa needs to know! On Joe's return Jed's outside the flat, waiting. He makes numerous calls to the answer-phone, so Joe rings the police but has no luck. We learn of Joe's dissatisfaction with his writing life, how he wants to get back into 'real' science.
Clarissa returns and we are told the story from her pointof view - she's had a bad day at work and Joe launches into Parry and getting back into science. She questions his claim re: the messages - Joe's wiped them - and is worried: is Parry real? Joe feels she doesn't believe him, there's an argument, he walks out to find it's raining hard and Jed is waiting for him. Joe is troubled by references Jed made to curtains, Jed catches up with the storming Joe who feels he wants Jed's death. Jed continues to make Joe the agent for all this and uses obscene, quite threatening language for the first time. Joe loses him.
We now get another perspective, a letter written by Jed, in which he refers to his 'mission' to love Joe and bring him to God. We learn of Jed's past and the kind of man he is. A couple of days after this first letter Joe drives to see Logan's widow. He's thinking of Clarissa's reaction to the letter - she thinks the writing is rather like Joe's, their relationship is destabilising. He searches her study for evidence of a possible affair to explain her 'indifference' to his plight but finds nothing. He decides he's seeing Mrs Logan to establish his guiltlessness. She is destroyed not just through grief but the certainty that her husband died because he was showing off - to the woman he was having a secret affair with! Mrs Logan wants Joe to find 'her'. He toys with her children over the concept of 'lying' and remembers why curtains were bothering him so - it reminds him of de Clerambault's syndrome: a framework of prediction for an infatuation such as Jed's.
When Joe returns home he discovers, via Jed, that he's paid a researcher to read all Joe's articles. What else could Jed pay to get done? Clarissa confronts Joe over searching her study, he made it so 'obvious' - what's he trying to tell her? We get another letter from Jed; he's saddened by Joe's 'dry thoughts' and there's a veiled threat. This leads into Joe and Clarissa admitting they've lost the 'trick of love'. Joe can't stop thinking about Jed, he's getting over three letters a week and is searching for concrete threats. Clarissa tells Joe it's all over, but his mind leaps to the pursuit of Mrs Logan's 'other woman'. Whatever he says to Clarissa is wrong. She's never seen Jed outside and the writing in the letters looks like Joe's. She's frightened, we can't believe Joe's being deserted now - but then again, is he imagining it all? It's separate beds time for Clarissa and Joe.
Joe meets Duty Inspector Linley to complain about the police's treatment of his harassment. Linley dismisses his claims. And so we move up a gear as, on Clarissa's birthday at a London restaurant the rather important politician sitting at the next table, Colin Tapp, is shot by hitmen. Joe is sure he was the intended target. The police don't. So, Joe goes home, looks through his address book and finds his only quasi-criminal friend - Johnny B Well, drugs supplier. Johnny takes Joe out to the country to meet some rather comical ex-hippies and buy a gun, as they leave Jed rings - he's got Clarissa captive in the flat. So now she probably believes Joe, she sounds scared anyway.
Joe almost poos his pants and practices with the gun. Joe gets back quick - Jed is sitting next to Clarissa, but despite the threat of a weapon he actually wants forgiveness from Joe - before ending his own life. "How can I forgive you when you're mad?" says Joe while pleasantly shooting Jed's elbow apart. Clarissa is horrified, things are definitely over now, as we discover from Clarissa's letter to Joe. Joe was right, but did he draw Jed in? Clarissa leaves the flat, but for how long?
There's still unfinished business. So Joe arranges a meeting for Jean Logan, the Euler Professor of Logic and 'that' woman. Clarissa comes too and there are difficulties between them. However, it's proved that the Professor, his nubile young lover and their picnic were given a lift by John Logan who was therefore not having an affair. Jean Logan forgives them, "but who's going to forgive me?". We end as the children ask Joe to tell the story about the river and how it's made up of tiny atoms "bound together by a mysterious force". We never get told what this force is.
There are two, in the first, a cod academic piece written by Wenn and Camia (an anagram of Ian McEwan) there is a scientific narration of the de Clerambault case we've just read. The characters 'R', 'P' and 'M' refer to the main characters' surnames as given in the novel. It is interesting to note the new information we get here: Clarissa and Joe are reconciled and adopt a child at a time beyond the end of the novel, whilst Jed is incarcerated in a secure institution. In the second appendix we get yet another letter from Jed, infatuation still going strong. What does this tell us about the nature of faith, and of love, an experience which "may merge into psychopathology"? Why does Jed effectively get the last word?
What follows will not include every possible key moment, nor is it exhaustive on what it covers - use it to stimulate connections between what is there and what's left out.
The accident. The first meeting with Jed. Notice the multiple perspectives from which it's told.
A search for scientific objectivity?
An appropriate tone for such a catastrophic event?
McEwan deliberately aiming for suspense through the halting, teasing narrative?
Jed's first phone call. Joe's first lie.
After so much talking what would you do?
Joe's scientific life. The disquiet he feels. He feels someone is stalking him.
Is he trying "to assert control over the future" in reaching this conclusion?
What significance is there in Joe's investigation into how the "power and attractions of narrative... (cloud) judgement"? What 'stories' get believed about Joe, Jed and Clarissa during the course of the novel?
Joe tells Clarissa about the phone call. She's unimpressed by his claims of being followed.
Jed meets Joe for the first time following the accident.
How do you react to Jed? Sad deluded loner? Or can you recognise something of yourself in there?
Art vs Science. Clarissa and Joe disagree over the smile.
Is Joe too narrowly focused? Is Clarissa deliberately obscure?
Clarissa's point of view. Joe wants to get back into science and discuss Jed. They argue. She suggests Jed is a symptom for other things in Joe's life. Joe walks out.
How convincing is McEwan's portrayal of a couple unused to verbal warfare?
Whose side are you on?
Jed's first letter. Now we see from his point of view.
What is revealed about his character here?
Clarissa's reaction to the letter. The similarity of Joe and Jed's handwriting. Joe searching through Clarissa's study.
Why is Joe and Clarissa's relationship 'destabilising'?
Is he too focused on Jed?
Is she too ready to see this as a covert way for Joe to tell her it's over?
The sub-plot. Mrs Logan and her trauma at a love, which has finished, in more ways than one. She asks Joe to find the 'other' woman she believes her husband had been seeing.
Note how McEwan introduces the children as a favoured metaphor for hope and new solutions. They trip his memory into recalling the significance of the curtain - de Clerambault's syndrome.
Jed's 'threat' outside the flat. He's paid a researcher. What else can he pay for?
Jed's second (printed) letter. He admits he has wanted to hurt Joe. Note how he can be perceptive, he sees Joe as a "cheerleader for...other people's stuff".
Joe is portrayed as arrogant. Is he?
Jed wants to strip away Joe's power. Is this what his love is really about?
We learn of Joe's search for concrete evidence of Jed's threats. Joe and Clarissa are losing the 'trick' of love. She tells him it's over.
Notice how McEwan structures Clarissa's announcement so that we feel it as a shock as Joe must. How do you account for his response?
The ambiguity of Jed's threats as compiled by Joe. He meets with Inspector Linley and is rebuffed.
Why is Joe's cataloguing of Jed's threats not on the same level of obsession?
The shooting at the restaurant. Joe convinced it was supposed to be him.
Notice how McEwan builds suspense via a teasing, fractured narrative as in chapter one.
As readers we are confused as to who the bullet was intended for. Why does McEwan bother to confuse us?
A scientific perspective in a crisis. The microscopic realm as a metaphor for strange behaviour. The final showdown with Jed.
Compare Joe's microscopic musings here with those in the final chapter.
Why does Joe not behave in the 'right' way here?
Clarissa's letter. Her arguments for moving out.
Where does the novel suggest that Joe did draw Jed in, as Clarissa claims?
The conclusion of the sub-plot. The truth of the picnic revealed.
Why have this kind of reconciliation at the end?
Why leave Joe and Clarissa's future so uncertain?
Joe tells stories to the children about atoms bound by a 'mysterious force'.
Is this force love?
Isn't Jed's kind of love 'mysterious' too?
A scientific conclusion. Issues not resolved in the main body of the novel are resolved here. Joe and Clarissa reconcile and adopt a child. Jed institutionalised.
Why does it take a scientific account to provide these answers?
Is this a satisfying ending?
Do you prefer the 'first' ending?
The final word belongs to Jed. Why?
Does this undermine the order of the scientific account?
Maybe not of every kind, but McEwan is careful to include many different varieties: the love between Clarissa and Joe; Jed's love for God and for Joe; erotic love between partners; the love of 'agape' for all beings; does Jed know what kind of love he has for Joe? Joe's love for 'real' science, Clarissa's for Keats; Keats' great love; and Jean Logan's, and the Professor's, and the Hippie ideal, and Clarissa's frustrated love for children, etc, etc.
Are there any conclusions McEwan arrives at?
Is this a study of love, or should we leave that to science?
How close to psychopathology is the condition of love as portrayed here?
Whose love is shown to be 'enduring' at the end?
Look at Jed's letters, is his love really about having power over Joe?
Is love to be 'endured', for example, something that makes you suffer?
An enduring coupling of its own. Clearly Joe and Clarissa represent either side - a little mechanically? - and the two sides come at the same problem from different angles. What is the best way to explore the mysteries of a smile or the vagaries of infatuation? McEwan allows us to see what both sides would do, and even gives us a 'second' scientific ending to contrast with the novelistic 'first' ending. Perhaps we might say that Jed belongs in neither camp and with neither art nor science to guide him he is lost.
Is your allegiance to art or science dependent on whether you favour Clarissa or Joe's version of events?
Can a novelist deal seriously and accurately with scientific ideas? Is he biased already because of his chosen form?
How is Joe's character shown to be 'scientific'?
How is Clarissa's character shown to be 'literary'?
A word used perhaps a little too often early on, but important nonetheless. Narrative relates to any method used to try and make sense of the world, to tell a story which is reassuring and sounds right. There are competing narratives in the novel and Joe's interest in the scientific unreliability of them should highlight the issue of belief and credibility at the heart of narrative, or stories, or fictions - fabrications, which we may believe to be true, or we may question.
What is it about the way Joe tells his 'story' to Clarissa that makes her reluctant to believe him?
What does Joe have to say to get the police interested?
Why does Jed have such a radically different 'reading' of the story Joe tells us in chapter one?
At what points does McEwan make it difficult for us to know which 'story' to believe?
In what ways is Jed's 'story' convincing?
Can you list the 'stories' Clarissa believes in order to convince herself that she doesn't love Joe?
What does the scientific narrative at the end offer that the novel doesn't - and what does it fail to deliver?
We may see Jed as the "Jesus Freak" Clarissa labels him as early on but all the characters have their set of beliefs, so what's the difference? Can we really say that Joe and Clarissa don't force their beliefs on others as we assume Jed does? What about Inspector Linley's beliefs? Jed's enduring faith is the last thing we get to read and it is strong, stronger than Clarissa's in Joe, or Jean Logan's in her husband. At the end of the novel we get two calls for forgiveness - Jed asks Joe and Professor Reid asks Mrs Logan, who herself despairs of ever receiving forgiveness from her husband. With such a religious closing tone this novel can't simply be an attack on religious fanaticism - can it?
Is faith shown to be powerful or destructive?
Why do we not see either Clarissa or Joe explicitly ask for forgiveness from each other?
Joe speaks like a scientist, Clarissa like a literature scholar and Jed like a religious fanatic. A trite statement, but how far is our understanding of their character based on the kinds of verbal constructions they use?
Look at Joe's way of describing the catastrophe in chapter one - do his scientific constructions make his understanding clearer?
In Clarissa's arguments against Joe where can you spot the literary critic reading between the lines?
How does Jed use religious language to manipulate Joe and to fix reality as he wants it? What can you point to in his language that demonstrates he is fanatical and mentally unbalanced?
There will be other language traits that these and other characters use. Look for how McEwan is able to give us a picture of what a person is like through what they say as well as what we're told they do. Begin with Linley and Mrs Logan.
A major theme in McEwan's work, whether a child suddenly goes missing, as in The Child in Time, the Berlin Wall crumbles, (Black Dogs), or two lovers kill a man and gruesomely cut up his body together, therefore dismembering their own love for each other, (The Innocent). Enduring Love is similar to the last novel mentioned insofar as it too deals with a love that cannot stand the strain of the consequences of the catastrophe. But then what is the real catastrophe? That a man died or that one man fell in love with another?
Does the catastrophe only reveal what was already there?
Does McEwan seek to resolve the catastrophe or explore its repercussions?
Shows basic understanding of the structure of the novel.
Responds directly to the question.
Offers an overview, setting the tone for the essay, raising questions
but not answering them yet.
McEwan attempts to have his cake and eat it as chapter 24
is both the ending and not the ending to the novel at the same time. Both
appendices extend our understanding beyond the rather inconclusive final
lines of chapter 24.
Can it possibly be satisfying to read something so indecisive? Or are
we offered a refreshingly open perspective on the main concern of the
novel - love and how it endures or is to be endured? We need to consider
if it is good enough to have matters wrapped up, secure in the knowledge
that Jed's love is wrong, or if a lack of certainty is required in the
face of Joe and Clarissa's mutual misunderstanding and the irrational
nature of love as presented in the novel and exemplified by Jed. And anyway,
who said chapter 24 is not satisfying on its own...
Begin with how the chapter actually is a satisfying conclusion.
Introduce some formal analysis of style and structure to bolster this
side of the argument, referring back to the question while you're about
Bring together textual analysis with thematic and structural concerns.
A strong argument for satisfying closure.
Looking at symbolism to push the argument further along with recognition
of stylistic elements in the author's writing.
By the time we come to chapter 24 the threat of what Jed
Parry might do has been removed. It is now time to conclude the other major
plot element, the mystery of John Logan's 'other' woman...
Formally there are many signals that we are reaching the end; the picnic
Joe arranges is much the same as in chapter one, and the very fact that
Joe picks Clarissa up to take her to the picnic suggests a mirroring of
the opening and therefore a somewhat satisfying rounding off of events,
especially as Jean Logan is finally relieved of her suspicions...
The last lines are not confusing or inconclusive. The story of the river,
of the atoms bound by a 'mysterious force' can be read as symbolic for
the action of love, itself a mysterious binding force. This then becomes
an honest and totally appropriate ending to such a complex sequence of
events. As told here, in a scientific anecdote, it also perfectly marries
together the twin concerns of art and science, and of course, as it is
told to Jean Logan's children, we cannot fail to recognise the implicit
hope for the future that they embody, a favourite McEwan metaphor...
Beginning to answer the 'satisfying' arguments head on.
Recognising alternative interpretations in a comprehensive fashion.
It's ok to criticise the author as long as you take it somewhere....
ie. to the next stage in the argument. Neither chapter 24 nor the appendices
provide formal closure. Perhaps this is actually more satisfying though...
The threat of Parry may have been removed, but the consequences
of his intervention live on. There is surely no satisfaction in Joe and
Clarissa being unable to forgive each other when we see Mrs Logan and even
Jed being able to...
So much for a sense of formal closure. The picnic lead to a catastrophe
last time, the story of the river is vague and inconclusive and Mrs Logan's
relief can hardly replace a reconciliation between Joe and Clarissa...
No wonder McEwan needs the two appendices, he can't bear to offer a saccharine
'Joe and Clarissa love each other after all' ending in the body of the
novel. So he assumes that a dispassionate scientific account, (where the
information that 'R' and 'M' were later reconciled is slipped in at the
end), will trick us into seeing this outcome as objective and right rather
than a screamingly romantic piece of wishful thinking...
The authority of the 'scientific' ending is undermined anyway with Jed's
final letter. Here the nice clean edges of the scientific interpretation
are revealed for what they are - impotent theorising in the face of such
powerful irrational feeling, which shows no sign of diminishing despite
examination and diagnosis. Nothing is cleared up, everything's left very
Taking the art and science debate and returning it to the central issue
- the complexity of love as presented.
The next and concluding step, the ending can be read as a formal closure
or a bunch of loose ends because...
We as readers make the imaginative step to make sense of what is presented.
Not pretending to have all the answers but at least recognising the complexity.
This marks a return and extension of the ideas put forward in the overview.
Neither the objective control of science nor the 'trick'
of art can tidy up the matter of love. In fact, both narratives are charmingly
modest in their achievements. This would seem to be appropriate for such
a mysterious subject as love and honest to the ambiguity in the title...
The art versus science debate is sustained in this ending and also somewhat
reconciled. It is possible to believe Joe and Clarissa will return to
one another come the end of chapter 24, so we don't necessarily need the
'proof' of Wenn and Camia's article. Equally the 'vague' story of the
river also calls on our imaginative faculties, hence proving the value
Either way, what we are left with is the realisation that the characters
in this story are not real, but we as readers are. What endures is love.
McEwan offers us the opportunity to experience this complex but common
phenomenon with imagination rather than closing off our responses inside
the asphyxiating formulae of bog standard romance fiction. This, surely,
is very satisfying indeed.
Chopping up dead people; abductions of small children; surgically removing a vital male organ; your Dad dies so you commit incest. All of these are major events from previous Ian McEwan novels or short stories. This is an author whose fictional territory is the grotesque catastrophic event.
Enduring Love contains none of the above, but it does include one of the most celebrated fictional catastrophes in contemporary British fiction. The ballooning accident which opens the novel is pacey, tense and intelligently told. A man dies horribly and his death, and dead body are described with the customary McEwan taste for horror amidst the everyday.
However, McEwan is not an author who wishes to shock and then, once the effect has worn off, shock us again. He takes this initial event and weaves more challenging material from its intensity. For here our hero discovers that he has a secret gay admirer who doesn't like to keep his admiring that secret. McEwan explores the repercussions of catastrophe. How people deal with the afterwards, the aftermath.
So we have a tale of stalking, a tale with gender implications. For, rather like a tale of male rape, having a male victim at least makes one half of the population feel more vulnerable than they otherwise might. McEwan, in his more mature work has sought to write about issues that have undoubted contemporary relevance, issues we read about in today's newspapers. So, in The Child in Time, he treats the subject of child abduction; in Black Dogs it's the fall of the Berlin Wall and in Enduring Love stalking. But where the newspapers will concentrate on grief and revolution while it still sells McEwan explores the causes and the coming to terms with the event that follows.
Enduring Love can be read in a variety of ways. It is a tale about love, but primarily about the mysteries of love: the love, which endures between Joe and Clarissa and the unwanted love from Jed, which has to be endured. There are many varieties of love encountered within the novel but all of them are touched by an irrationality, which we cannot safely confine to the religious fanatic Jed. The actions of love can force all of us to succumb to radical change; Joe and Clarissa drift apart and as they do McEwan encourages us to take sides, to yell at him or her to stop being so selfish and listen, and in that action of caring for characters who aren't real we're part of the irrationality. The novel is also concerned with the competing claims of art and science, with the different ways they try to make sense of the world, how they may work together and how they may be threatened by the other; Joe and Clarissa represent these two ways; hence another major theme, desire for objectivity, the power of having the right perspective, a certainty Jed claims without science or art. Faith becomes a focus too, Jed has faith in God, but how much does Clarissa have in Joe, or Jean Logan in her supposedly adulterous husband? It is also a story about telling stories, at points we don't know whose narrative to trust despite, or maybe because of the different perspectives we're offered, including Wenn and Camia's bogus scientific paper in Appendix One, (the authors' names are an anagram of Ian McEwan).
Critics have attacked McEwan's novels for being too mechanical. Chapters can seem overdesigned and too neatly structured within a very ordered whole. It's even been said that the novels don't actually go anywhere, but just revolve around the same subject. This is perhaps a legacy of his early short story writing where compact ideas (of the grotesque kind) do not have to be stretched beyond their natural length. Or perhaps the stigma of being Britain's most famous Creative Writing student still sticks thirty years on. Whatever the merits of this critique, McEwan's novels retain the seductive force of the best page-turners along with the power of direct and intelligent emotional challenge, Enduring Love is no exception.
Enduring Love can be read in a variety of ways. It is a tale about love, but primarily about the mysteries of love: the love, which endures between Joe and Clarissa and the unwanted love from Jed, which has to be endured. There are many varieties of love encountered within the novel but all of them are touched by an irrationality, which we cannot safely confine to the religious fanatic Jed. The actions of love can force all of us to succumb to radical change; Joe and Clarissa drift apart and as they do McEwan encourages us to take sides. The novel is also concerned with the competing claims of art and science, with the different ways they try to make sense of the world, how they may work together and how they may be threatened by the other; Joe and Clarissa represent these two ways; hence another major theme, desire for objectivity, the power of having the right perspective, a certainty Jed claims without science or art. Faith becomes a focus too, Jed has faith in God, but how much does Clarissa have in Joe, or Jean Logan in her supposedly adulterous husband? It is also a story about telling stories, at points we don't know whose narrative to trust despite, or maybe because of the different perspectives we're offered, including Wenn and Camia's bogus scientific paper in Appendix One.