Thursday, 14 June 2012

Enduring Love – Ian McEwan, My Thoughts

I warn you from the outset that this entry may contain some spoilers from the aforementioned book.

Enduring Love (by Ian McEwan,  a British author of many books whose website can be found here) starts with an accident and this event is the catalyst for the rest of the novel. The accident is quite an iconic scene, and is depicted upon the front of the book, for it involves a hot-air balloon, as well as the death of a man who is a complete stranger to the main character. This event is the precursor to the rest of the novel, for it brings two of the characters together in such a way that the life of the protagonist is immediately effected very deeply.

To further describe the catalytic event, it is simply a loss of control of a hot air balloon which is being piloted by a grandfather and his grandson. The balloon, on its undirected course, crosses over an area where our hero, Joe Rose, and his wife, Clarissa, are having a picnic as a celebration of their reunion. During this scene, it is evident that the balloon is on a dangerous course, dangerous in such a way that it threatens to harm the grandson, who is trapped in the basket of this vehicle, whilst his grandfather campaigns at trying to pull the balloon down. A group of men rush in to his aide, including our Joe, and are left in the situation of clinging to the ropes of this balloon when a gust of wind pulls it into the air. One of the group, though we are never explicitly told who, lets go of the ropes, which then leads to the rest of the people letting go as well, save for one man, John Logan, who clings on until eventually falling to his death.

When we consider the significance of this scene, there is one part of it that we must definitely call to mind: the first person to let go. Their role is highly significant in this tale, for their action leads to the others also letting go, for in doing so they take with them all the blame, thus pardoning the others who later let go. It becomes highly influential on Joe’s thinking later on, for throughout the book he consistently looks back on the event, reconsidering it with a highly critical mind. There is an unspoken element of self blame, which is highlighted by the fact that Joe thinks on how, had all the men held on together, their collective weight would have probably brought the balloon down. Joe uses the fact that he was not the first person to let go to reconcile his feelings of guilt. It is a coping mechanism, reminding him that he would not have let go had the other not already done so, thus shifting all the blame from himself to the other, unnamed person. Without this fact, it is likely that Joe would be forced to blame himself for the death of John Logan, though if we were to examine the situation it was not the actions of they who let go which ended in the death of John Logan. No, it was his own action, to not let go which ended with his death.

It is found that the boy survives the incident, as do all others involved save for John Logan.Hence, we may be inclined to believe that John’s death was unnecessary, for his refusing to let go did not contribute to saving the grandson, it led to only one thing: his death. However, I don’t think that we should consider the death of John Logan to be a waste of life, for his death was a sign of his commitment to wanting to do something good. His goal was to help the boy live and his commitment to it was such that he was unwilling to let go of the ropes and allow the boy to be carried away. Though he did not see his goal completed, he died trying to do something good. He gave his life to this action. John’s death may not have been necessary and may seem as a waste from a practical perspective, but I remain resolute that his death retained a kind of nobility that is altogether absent from the overly practical way of our world. Indeed, the scientific, rational basis of Joe’s own thoughts lead him to think of John’s death as being a waste. He could not be more wrong about that, for John gave his life for another, and although the other would have lived regardless, this action bestowed on John’s death a kind of beauty.

The way in which the book is woven leads the reader down many different lines of thought as to what is actually going on. After the balloon accident, the events of the novel shift their attention to the interaction between Joe and one of the other men at the scene of the accident, Jed Parry. Jed is portrayed has having religious convictions, leaning him towards Christianity, but also being delusional, for he is a sufferer of a psychological syndrome which makes him believe that Joe is deeply in love with him and that he deeply loves Joe. Jed becomes a threatening presence at the edge of Joe’s experiences, for he spends hours standing outside their flat watching for when Joe leaves, as well as writing him letters, through which it is revealed that he thinks that Joe is giving him subtle little signals of affection, when Joe is doing no such thing. A clever aspect of this tale is that Joe’s reactions and subsequent obsession with “the problem of Jed” leads his wife, Clarissa, into becoming very suspicious. Additional factors such as the fact that she never sees him and that the letters are written in a style much like Joes, plant the seed of doubt in the minds of the reader. We begin to wonder whether Jed Parry is in fact a real presence in the world of the book, or whether he exists entirely within the mind of our protagonist.

This comes to a peak during the restaurant scene, which leads to Joe and Clarissa having to give police statements about something they witness. It is revealed that Joe’s memory of the events is completely wrong, based on several contradictory witness statements. This, and the fact that Joe is the only one to recognise Jed in the restaurant, leads us to believe that it is highly possible that Joe is unstable, that he could have invented the entire situation with Jed in his head. Our doubts are pushed further, however, for during one of Joe’s scenes in which he is thinking back to the accident, we begin to wonder whether or not it could have been he who let go of the rope first, for his memory has been proven to be unreliable.

My final point concerning this book is the title “Enduring Love”. Most people would read the title as “Love” which is “Enduring”, that is to say we read the “Enduring” as premodifier. However, having reflected on the book, it is more than acceptable to instead read the “Enduring” as being a verb, hence the book is about an individual (Joe Rose) “Enduring Love”. The implications of this alteration of interpretation are twofold, for there are two different loves which Joe is forced to endure within the text. The first is that of Jed Parry, which is an obsessive, maddening love which stems from the clearly unstable psychology of the character. This love is unwanted and consuming, it drives Joe as far as purchasing a gun as well as driving a wedge into the heart of his marriage as well as causing him to act very differently. The central plot is the way in which he is forced to endure the unfathomable love he is subjected to. The second love is that of his wife. The pair clearly have a happy marriage and seem to be well suited to one another. However, once their relationship is put under the strain of Jed’s affections, and certainly once Clarissa begins to doubt her husband’s sanity, it is clear that things are beginning to turn out for the worst. Not only this, but it becomes clear to the reader that there is a distinct chance that their relationship is not going to survive until the end of the book, let alone the aftermath of the main events.

A central point raised by the book seems to be that all love is something that has to be endured, even that of Joe and Clarissa. Yes, Joe is put under enormous pressure due to the actions of Jed, but it is very clear that his marriage is also something that he has to Endure, even though he loves it himself. His feelings for Clarissa are another trial that he must make sense of and attempt to control and overcome. Thus, we can see that the point of the title is that all love has to be Endured, whether it is received or given. Joe has to Endure Jed’s affections whilst also Enduring his own love for Clarissa, as well as Clarissa’s love for him. Clarissa herself has to endure her affections for her husband as well as his feelings towards her. Love is a weight that causes unfathomable amounts of pressure on the individuals involved.

That, and that alone, is the central message of this novel, at least that is how I see it.

Windows Live Tags: Love,McEwan,Thoughts,British,accident,event,death,life,wife,basket,vehicle,aide,situation,gust,John,Logan,significance,person,role,tale,action,self,fact,guilt,mechanism,incident,commitment,goal,Though,perspective,basis,reader,events,attention,interaction,Parry,convictions,sufferer,syndrome,presence,hours,affection,aspect,reactions,obsession,Additional,factors,Joes,restaurant,statements,memory,Most,implications,alteration,interpretation,text,psychology,relationship,affections,husband,aftermath,Endure,Thus,amounts,individuals,message,grandson,himself,whether

No comments:

Post a Comment