The Enemy that is Rationality in Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love

Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love begins with a tragedy, like any great novel that attempts to explore the repercussions of a single moment on an individual’s existence. During a picnic, in an open field just outside of London, the happily married Joe and Clarissa Rose witnesses the steep and out-of-control descent of a hot air balloon. Realizing that someone is in danger, Joe runs towards the scene, hoping that he has in in him to save the pilot and the child on board the balloon. He is joined by several other men, one of whom is the pony-tailed and lanky Jed Parry, a figure who will play a pivotal role in Joe and Clarissa’s life. Bound together by the desire to help yet separated by the acts they are willing to pursue and the risks they are willing to take, the group’s mission ends in a very unfortunate circumstance as one of the rescuers, a man named Logan, falls to his death. Standing over the broken and lifeless body of Logan, Parry implores Joe to fall on his knees and pray for forgiveness and clarity.  Joe, a man of science and letters, a man who takes pride in his ability to use logic and rationality at all times, dismisses his invitation. Little did Joe know, the auspicious moment marks the beginning of Parry’s romantic and wanton obsession for his “salvation” and love; a psychotic fixation that would test the limits of Joe’s belief in science and his relationship with his wife. Moving, exciting and lyrical, Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love is a narrative which dwells on the relationship between science and faith and tries to explore the new and unfamiliar realities brought about by a single event, and how the learned human mind  comes to grips with it.

What I particularly enjoyed about the novel is the sheer unreliability of the narrator. Throughout the whole novel, Joe convinces us that Parry is insane. He is a delusional Jesus-Freak who honestly and wholeheartedly believes that Joe is in love with him. He trusts that Joe’s indifference and continuous attempts to ignore and threaten him are all pleas for attention. He considers every single one of Joe’s actions as messages of passion, that the simple touch of a leaf is a proclamation of undying love. Parry is a nutcase, that much is true, but there are instances in the novel which makes us think otherwise. The way the story is laid out, the desperation oozing out of Joe, the uncharacteristic measures he takes, like how he invades Clarissa’s privacy by opening her letters, how he deletes all of Parry’s messages, and how he hides all the details of Jed’s presence in his life, is unsettling. Pretty soon, the reader begins to wonder. Is Joe leading Parry on? Is it really as one-sided as Joe makes it out to be? Or is what Joe narrating simply a ploy to make other people believe that he is merely a victim in this scenario?

Rationality too is portrayed as an antagonist in the narrative, a plot hook which compels the reader to consider the entire situation again and again. Joe’s reliance on his levelheadedness, his dependence on research, studies and the damn scientific method, is the reason why his connection was severed from Clarissa. The novel shares the unusual insight that rationality destroys, or corrupts, our basic human instinct, out capability to interact with other human beings through our emotions and our feelings. Rationality, which is in our nature, ironically, becomes unnatural. That’s why, at the end of each chapter, although we are very well aware that Joe Rose is built that way, one cannot help but wonder at the sheer sincerity of it all.


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