“I remember thinking, but not saying, that it was a precarious form of transport when the wind, rather than the pilot, set the course. Then I though that perhaps this was the very nature of its attraction. And instantly the idea went out of my mind.”
McEwan opens Enduring Love with an accident and a chance encounter. Joe's passing thought upon first seeing the balloon both foreshadows the accident by calling the balloon "precarious" and precipitates the struggle for control that will follow. By remarking on the wind's power in balloon travel, Joe evokes a feeling of powerlessness and chance. As he soon finds out, all the characters are subject to chance's power. Joe struggles to gain power over several characters in the novel, including physical power over Parry and emotional power over Clarissa. This quote suggests that the real threat to Joe's power and self-sufficiency is chance, something he cannot fight against or change. In order to make this revelation more manageable, Joe "instantly" forgets it, and, in the coming chapters, chooses to see Parry and Clarissa as the real threats to his power.
"I've already marked my beginning, the explosion of consequences, with the touch of a wine bottle and a shout of distress. But this pinprick is as notional as a point in Euclidian geometry, and though it seems right, I could have proposed the moment Clarissa and I planned to picnic after I had collected her from the airport, or when we decided on our route, or the field in which to have our lunch, and the time we chose to have it. There are always antecedent causes. A beginning is an artifice, and what recommends one over another is how much sense it makes of what follows."
Here, McEwan cautions the reader through Joe to be skeptical of what follows. As Joe notes, "a beginning is an artifice," and it follows that whatever comes next must also be artificial in some way. Joe questions the truth in stories, forcing the reader to question the truth in Enduring Love. At the same time, McEwan tells the reader the purpose of stories: to make sense. This quote gives us a lens through which to view the novel. Joe will spend the novel trying to make sense of John Logan's senseless fall by retreating into science and research. McEwan will spend the novel trying to make sense of the concepts of love and knowledge while indirectly challenging them. With Joe's awareness of his artifice, the reader also becomes aware of the artifice of Enduring Love.
"A little later we were back in our seats, leaning over the table like dedicated craftsmen at work, grinding the jagged edge of memories, hammering the unspeakable into forms of words, threading single perceptions into narrative, until Clarissa returned us to the fall, to the precise moment when Logan had slid down the rope, hung there one last precious second, and let go."
Here Joe plays with the idea of crafting a narrative. The experience of Logan's death in its raw form is too awful for Joe and Clarissa to handle. Joe uses the metaphor of crafting to explain their struggle to put the experience into words. They hammer away at the shapeless and unintelligible form of John Logan's death, trying to shape it into something that has meaning. Joe compares narrative-making to sewing, as they combine isolated perceptions and experiences into a story. Like those perceptions and experiences, Joe and Clarissa feel single and cut adrift, much like John Logan. By creating a narrative of John's death, Joe and Clarissa organize their isolation into an intelligible form, a form that is separate from the raw and devastating truth.
"Over the days and weeks, Clarissa and I told our story many times to friends, colleagues and relatives. I found myself using the same phrases, the same adjectives in the same order. It became possible to recount the events without re-living them in the faintest degree, without even remembering them."
Here McEwan draws an interesting comparison between "recounting" and "remembering." By contrasting the two words, he forces the reader to reconsider what it means to tell a story and how it is different from experiencing it, or even re-living it. He implies that there is an emotional hollow at storytelling's center and problematizes both the telling and hearing of stories. McEwan discounts the power of words to accurately convey experience, as Clarissa and Joe's words only further destroy the truth in their experience. This assertion problematizes the entire construction and motivation of Enduring Love.
"Clarissa said that I had not understood her. There was nothing wrong in analyzing the bits, but it was easy to lose sight of the whole. I agreed. The work of synthesis was crucial. Clarissa said I still did not understand her, she was talking about love. I said I was too, and how babies who could not yet speak got more of it for themselves. She said no, I still didn't understand. There we had left it. No hard feelings. We had had this conversation in different forms on many occasions. What we were really talking about this time was the absence of babies from our lives."
This passage highlights the contrasting "readings" of Clarissa and Joe of a particular conversation. In their argument over the "meaning" of a baby's smile, Clarissa uses an emotional and symbolic approach, while Joe uses a rational and scientific one. As a result of their different viewpoints, they have trouble understanding each other. At the core of their disagreement is a confusion over what they are talking about. Clarissa believes that they are speaking of love, while Joe believes that Clarissa is actually talking about her own desire for children. Their inability to merge their two viewpoints prevents them from understanding that they are talking about the same thing. This quote also highlights the "lack" that their relationship has: children. Although their love seems perfect at the beginning of the novel, Jed is able to divide them by exploiting the "lacks" and differences in their relationship.
"I went down the path and put out my own hand and fingered the leaves that you had touched. I felt each one and it was a shock when I realized it was different from the ones you hadn't touched. There was a glow, a kind of burning on my fingers along the edges of those wet leaves. Then I got it. You had touched them in a certain way, in a pattern that spelled a simple message. Did you really think I would miss it, Joe! So simple, so clever, so loving. What a fabulous way to hear of love, through rain and leaves and skin, the pattern woven through the skein of God's sensuous creation unfolding in a scorching sense of touch."
In Jed's first letter to Joe, he details the love and connection he feels. If it had been written by a different person, the letter could be an actual love letter. Jed uses stereotypical love letter language and tropes to convey his feelings to Joe, varying from schoolboyish to almost erotic ("scorching sense of touch"). The letter echoes and contrasts with the love letters Joe claims Clarissa wrote him at the beginning of their relationship. Joe explains that Clarissa believes that a love can only be perfect when it is expressed perfectly through words. For Parry, his love is expressed perfectly in the many letters he writes Joe. Does that make his love perfect? Parry's love letters complicate the idea of a perfect love and further drive apart Joe and Clarissa.
"Self persuasion was a concept much loved by evolutionary psychologists. I had written a piece about it for an Australian magazine. It was pure armchair science, and it went like this: if you lived in a group, like humans have always done, persuading others of your own needs and interests would be fundamental to your well-being. Sometimes you had to use cunning. Clearly you would be at your most convincing if you persuaded yourself first and did not even have to pretend to believe what you were saying. The kind of self-deluding individuals who tended to do this flourished, as did their genes. So it was we squabbled and scrapped, for our unique intelligence was always at the service of our special pleading and selective blindness to the weakness of our case."
In this quote, Joe defines self-persuasion for the reader, convinced that Clarissa has persuaded herself that Joe is crazy in order to justify her desire to have an affair. This is ironic because, by ascribing self-persuasion to Clarissa, Joe is persuading himself that Clarissa is having an affair and that he has a right to check her desk. It is also an example of Joe's constant need to explain behavior through science, even when he realizes that the explanation verges on pseudo-science or "armchair science." In order to master emotions and chance, Joe reduces them to a scientific explanation. For Joe, if he can explain it, he is stronger than it. As Joe finishes his explanation, he realizes that he has also been deluding himself and shows awareness of his own delusion, bringing the book into the postmodern.
"De Clérambault’s syndrome. The name was like a fanfare, a clear trumpet sound recalling me to my own obsessions. There was research to follow through now and I knew exactly where to start. A syndrome was a framework of prediction and it offered a kind of comfort. I was almost happy as she opened the front door for me and the four of us crowded out on to the brick path to say our goodbyes. It was as if I had at last been offered that research post with my old professor."
Joe's identification of de Clérambault’s syndrome is a turning point in the novel. Since Joe diagnosed him, Parry is now easily dealt with, instead of being a shadowy and unpredictable force. Joe receives power from his discovery and uses his knowledge to trap Parry within the scientific confines of a "syndrome." Parry's senseless actions can be inscribed within a scientific narrative, giving Joe control over him. At the same time as his triumph, however, Joe shows self-awareness. He realizes that he has become obsessed with Parry, just as Parry has become obsessed with him. This self-awareness echoes Joe's larger self-awareness of his status as a narrator with bias. Joe references his perennial career disappointment at the end of the quote, reminding the reader of his bias and motivations. Desperate to get back into "scientific" research, Joe uses Parry as an opportunity, pushing him further and further toward his "violent conclusion."
"It was a simple idea really, but a man who had a theory about pathological love and who had given his name to it, like a bridegroom at the altar, must surely reveal, even if unwittingly, the nature of love itself. For there to be a pathology there had to be a lurking concept of health. De Clérambault’s syndrome was a dark, distorting mirror that reflected and parodied a brighter world of lovers whose reckless abandon to their cause was sane."
This quote reveals the importance of foils within Enduring Love. After realizing that Parry suffers from de Clérambault’s syndrome, Joe reflects on what that means for him. He hopes to use Parry's love as a reverse guide to bring Clarissa back to him. Using a definition by opposition approach, Joe tries to understand what love really is, by looking at everything that Parry's love is not. This approach references the good/evil dichotomy presented in Paradise Lost, a text that Clarissa references at the beginning of the novel when Logan falls from the sky. Logan's fall from the sky causes Joe and Clarissa's fall from the innocence of their love, which is a necessary step for them to truly understand their love. By contrasting their pure, real love to Parry's nightmarish, insane love, their love grows stronger and more powerful, ultimately surviving.
"I always thought our love was the kind that was meant to go on and on. Perhaps it will. I just don't know."
In one of the few instances in which we get Clarissa's unfiltered voice, we see her expressing the same sentiment as Joe. While she previously believed that their love was "meant to go on and on," she's not sure anymore. Like the reader, Clarissa is now skeptical of both the enduring power of love and the objective truth of knowledge. Her diction shapes this thought. Her longest sentence describes what their love used to be, an enduring stream of relative happiness. She breaks that sentence off, however, and finishes her letter with two very short sentences, including one that isn't even a proper sentence. As an English professor, Clarissa clearly has the ability to express her intentions through writing. She uses her ability to manipulate words to imply that, like her sentences, their relationship has ended too early, that it has become stunted.
Enduring Love Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Enduring Love is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.