Enduring Love Summary

Ian McEwan

Enduring Love

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Enduring Love Summary

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Enduring Love is the sixth novel written by award-winning British author Ian McEwan. Published in 1997, the novel details the existential crisis of a science journalist after he witnesses a fatal hot air balloon accident at a picnic. The novel was shortlisted for the Whitbread Book Award in 1999. In 2004, it was adapted into a motion picture starring Daniel Craig and Samantha Morton, and directed by Roger Michell.

Joe and Clarissa Rose are a young, married British couple. Joe, a science journalist, is very rational and prefers logic as a way of dealing with situations. Clarissa, an English professor who studies Keats, is more emotional and prefers to deal with things in an empathetic way. The two are enjoying a picnic when they see a runaway hot air balloon with a frightened boy in the basket. Joe and several other men run after the balloon and grab the ropes. However, a strong gust of wind lifts the balloon up, causing them to let go of the ropes. Only one man, a doctor named John Logan, holds on to his rope and is lifted into the sky with the balloon. He then falls to his death. Joe and Clarissa are shaken by the accident and comfort each other.

While at the picnic, the couple also meets a religious man,Jed Parry,who takes a seemingly romantic interest in Joe. Joe used to be a scientist, but decided to go into journalism after a failed patent application. When Joe goes to the library to do research for an article he is writing, he believes he sees Parry there stalking him. Parry also leaves thirty-three messages for Joe on the couple’s answering machine, the last of which makes a cryptic reference to curtains. Joe tells Clarissa that he is concerned about Parry’s obsession with him, but Clarissa thinks he is overreacting. When she does not find any messages on their machine, she and Joe get into a fight, and Joe storms out of the house.

To assuage his guilt, Joe decides to visit Jean Logan, the widow of John Logan. Jean, who is a history professor at Oxford, tells Joe that she found a stranger’s scarf and picnic basket in her husband’s car after the accident and suspects that he was having an affair. Joe agrees to track down the other people at the picnic and ask them whether they saw Logan with a woman. While at Jean’s house, Joe sees her children playing in the curtains. At that moment, he remembers a case of de Clerambault’s Syndrome where a French woman fell in love with the King of England and believed that he was sending her secret messages in curtains. He has a sudden epiphany about what Parry’s message might have meant.

Joe goes home to find Parry waiting outside his apartment with a letter. Parry is angry that Joe is writing scientific articles trying to disprove the existence of God. As time goes by, Parry sends Joe more letters, and Joe and Clarissa’s relationship starts to become more and more strained. On Clarissa’s birthday, they go out to celebrate in a restaurant with several guests. Joe and Clarissa are having a lively conversation with their friend, Professor Kale, when two masked men enter the restaurant and shoot the man sitting next to Joe. However, Parry intervenes and tries to stop them. Joe tells the police that he suspects Parry hired the shooters to kill him, but they ended up shooting the wrong person. However, his suspicions are not taken seriously.

Concerned about Parry’s escalating violence, Joe contacts his old drug dealer, Johnny Well, to help him obtain a gun for protection. Johnny takes Joe to the home of other former drug dealers, Steve and Xan, and a woman named Daisy, who sell him a gun. On his way back home, Joe gets a phone call from Parry saying that he is holding Clarissa hostage at Joe’s apartment. Joe drives back to his apartment after taking a few practice shots with the gun, and confronts Parry who is holding Clarissa at knife point. Parry asks Joe to forgive him for trying to have him killed, and then puts the knife to his own neck. However, Joe shoots him in the elbow, causing him to drop the knife. The police arrive and take Parry away.

Clarissa apologizes to Joe and admits he was right about Parry. However, she writes him a letter explaining her perspective and saying that the whole situation could have been avoided if Joe had spoken to Parry sooner instead of ignoring him and letting his infatuation and anger grow. Joe fulfills Jean’s request to find the woman who was with her husband at the picnic. He and Clarissa go to Jean’s house and take her and the children to another picnic, where Joe introduces Jean to Bonnie, the woman who left her scarf in John Logan’s car on the day he died.

Bonnie explains that Logan had given her and her boyfriend a ride in his car after their own car broke down on the road. As they were driving, Logan saw the runaway balloon and rushed over to help. After he fell to his death, Bonnie and her boyfriend panicked and left the scene, leaving behind the scarf and picnic basket. Jean cries and feels guilty upon realizing that she was wrong to suspect her husband of having an affair. The novel ends with two appendices, one in which the author describes de Clerambault’s Syndrome in more detail and another in which Parry writes a letter to Joe from the mental hospital where he is confined, professing to still be in love with him.

The main themes of the novel are knowledge, truth, rationality, emotion, narratives, grief, and closure. The novel is essentially an existentialist detective story in which the characters struggle to uncover the truth about many seemingly absurd events that make no sense. The novel also evaluates the merit of different epistemological means of uncovering this truth, particularly the merits of Joe’s rational approach as compared to those of Clarissa’s more emotional one. Although Joe is technically correct about Parry’s obsession, Clarissa is perhaps also right to argue that he could have defused the situation by being more empathetic.