Two contrasting loves are at the center of Enduring Love: Joe and Clarissa's love for each other and Parry's love for Joe. By playing with the dual meaning of "enduring" as either something that lasts or something that must be suffered, McEwan explores the fragile nature of "true love." Joe claims that he has always thought his and Clarissa's love was the "kind to endure," meaning last, but, by the end of the novel, their love seems to be over. Conversely, Parry's love for Joe is the kind of love that Joe must "endure," meaning suffer through. Parry's love is also the kind that endures, or lasts, as revealed by Parry's letter to Joe nearly three years later. Joe also refers to de Clérambault’s syndrome as a dark, distorting mirror of love. He recognizes in Parry a parody of reckless, irrational, "sane" love that becomes monstrous when divorced from reality. Through its juxtaposition of these two loves, Enduring Love forces the reader to question the difference between the two loves and decide which one is the "enduring love."
The idea of reading is central in the novel, as both Joe and Clarissa read for their jobs. On a larger scale, however, the novel explores the many ways in which people can "read" the world around them. In Enduring Love, the idea of reading corresponds to points of view. Each character has a differents lens, or point of view, through which they read the world. Joe's lens is highly rational, grounded in science and research. Clarissa's lens is more emotional, taking cues from subtle interpretations and intuitions. Parry, as Joe notes, is stuck in love's "self-referential prison," only reading what he wants to read. Coupled with reading is the idea of signals, a key part of Enduring Love. Parry constantly references the "signals" Joe sends him, Clarissa sees her open desk drawer as a "signal" from Joe, and Jean Logan tries unsuccessfully to read the signals of the picnic basket and scarf in her husband's car.
Coupled with reading, storytelling, or the exploration of narrative, is an essential part of the novel. As a writer, Joe is keenly aware of his choices in telling us, the readers, his story. He begins by explaining how to choose a beginning, as well as the artificiality of beginnings. From this stems the idea of the artificiality of all narratives. Joe tells the reader that a beginning should be chosen based on what will make the most "sense" of the events. He chooses to begin with the balloon accident, a senseless event that forces all the characters of the novel to rewrite it into a story that makes sense to them. Joe responds by trying to tell a story in which he is not responsible for Logan's death. Jean Logan responds by narrating a story in which her husband was not faithful to her, and therefore she hasn't lost as much as it seems. With the notion of the artificiality of stories comes the reminder that Enduring Love is, in fact, just a story. McEwan cautions the reader to approach it with a skeptical and analytical eye since it, too, is artificial and has an ulterior motive.
Fate vs. Chance
The balloon accident underscores the struggle between fate and chance within Enduring Love. Joe, as a scientific atheist, believes the accident to be chance and struggles with the meaninglessness of John Logan's death as a result. Parry, as a Christian, views the encounter as fate, claiming that it happened in order to bring Joe to Parry and to God. The structure of the balloon accident evokes the struggle as Joe worries that "it was a precarious form of transport when the wind, rather than the pilot, set the course." Joe might interpret the winds as mere chance, or at least part of a large scientific narrative. Parry would credit the winds' movements to God, viewing them as essential in bringing Joe and him together.
Religion and Belief
Religion is important in Enduring Love because it is ostensibly Parry's motivating factor. As a strong and outspoken atheist, McEwan doesn't present religion positively, making the most religious character a raving madman. At the same time, however, McEwan recognizes that there are many types of religions. For Joe, science and rationality are a sort of religion. He finds meaning in a "circle of life" evolutionary belief system and has his faith shaken when events like Logan's death and Parry's mania don't fit into that circle. It is significant that when Joe struggles with understanding Logan's tragedy he turns to his science writing as well as his failed science career for support.
Enduring Love is rich with intertextual references. Clarissa, as an English professor, constantly references other texts, including Paradise Lost and John Keats's poems. Joe also makes many references, including two to Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland. These references reinforce the reader's awareness of Enduring Love as a novel and provide a vast narrative background for the story. When Joe references Carroll at the hippies' house, comparing Steve to "the Dormouse" from Alice in Wonderland, he compares his voyage into Parry's and the hippies' world to the topsy-turvy "wonderland" into which Alice stumbles. When he compares his and Jean Logan's picnic to Carroll's picnic, he reduces the supposedly rational adults to children looking for a comforting and entertaining narrative.
McEwan does intricate work with gender roles in Enduring Love. Superficially, it would seem that he supports them as he presents Joe in a successful, monied masculinity and Clarissa in an emotional, irrational femininity. Parry is also presented as feminine and powerless until he reaches for that stereotypical masculine weapon, the gun. When Parry threatens Joe's masculinity by drawing him into a relationship, Joe responds by getting a gun for himself, trying to re-assert his masculinity. In the struggle between Joe and Clarissa, Joe is right, and it would seem that the masculine approach triumphs. In Clarissa's final letter, however, we see an angle that we are denied previously, including the opportunity to have avoided the whole drama. The gender division is not as clear as it had seemed.
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.