Key Sections (new)
Key Sections (new)
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?