The opening chapter to Ian McEwan’s “ Enduring Love” is possibly one of the most remarkable opening chapters to date. McEwan’s brilliant use of language, structure, themes, realistic characters and plot combine to keep the reader in suspense and in a state of anxiety. Reading the first sentence immediately instils a sense of anxiety; “ The beginning is simple to mark. ” This subconsciously tells the reader that if the beginning is simple, the rest must be complicated, confusing, anything but simple. The whole chapter is filled with words that point towards darker, more sinister events.
They “ heard the man’s shout”, “ saw the danger” and in particular “ What idiocy, to be racing into this story and its labyrinths, sprinting away from our own happiness” This sentence confirms the suspicions that “ The beginning is simple to mark” should of given. The sentence tells us that whatever he, Joe, is running towards, is more than just the obvious, it is a maze of possibilities, a “ labyrinth” of stories, ending in Joe and Clarissa becoming unhappy.
The narrator tells us “ The transformation was absolute” This leaves the reader asking ‘ what transformation? and ‘ absolute in what way? ‘ Obviously, the reader has to read on to find out the answers, a good technique to engage interest and curiosity. Another question McEwan keeps the reader thinking about is ‘ What are they running towards? ‘ Indeed, it seems that the narrator is asking himself the very same question: “ What were we running towards? I don’t think any of us would ever know fully” The answer Joe gives is vague, and does not immediately satisfy the readers’ curiosity, another ploy to keep the reader interested.
An important thing to take into account is that the story is written in first person, yet surprisingly in a very objective style, lacking of Joe’s emotions. It is apparent that Joe is thinking back to the incident, as it is written in past tense, with added retrospective views and insights, such as “ knowing what I know now” and the included names of the other people present, which Joe most definitely would not have found out until afterwards.
This has left McEwan with lots of opportunities to intrigue the reader by partially discussing things yet to happen; ” We were running towards a catastrophe, which itself was a kind of furnace in whose heat identities and fates would buckle into new shapes” The reader does not yet know why it is a “ kind of furnace” that will change the “ identities and fates” of the characters.
Joe imagines looking at the scene through a buzzard’s eye; ” I see us three hundred feet up, through the eyes of a buzzard we had watched earlier, soaring circling and dipping” Not only does this give the reader a clearer idea of what is happening, the six men running towards the centre of a field, but it also is a personification of the scene in Joe’s mind, threatening, distant, yet demanding attention. It could be that the buzzard is symbolic, representing the stalker that comes into the novel later on.
McEwan gives the reader a clear image of the characters without having to directly describe them to us. The name “ Clarissa” and the fact they are drinking “ 1987 Daumas Gassac” immediately points towards middle class characters. Later in the chapter, we are told, “ apart from the flat and our car, it was the most expensive single item I had ever bought. ” This item he is referring to is actually a book Joe has bought for Clarissa. If he can afford to spend this much money on a book alone then he must be wealthy.
As far as physical description goes, McEwan has incorporated this into the story, with Joe telling us that he had written love letters stating “ the facts”, “ a beautiful woman loved and wanted to be loved by a large clumsy balding fellow” This leaves plenty of room for the reader’s imagination but gives a rough guideline to follow. The first two to three pages of the chapter are spent describing the few seconds that started the event. The vivid way that Joe describes what is happening, ” I was stretching out my hand, and as the cool neck and the black foil touched my palm,” has a filmic like quality.
This is continued as he describes the buzzard’s view, “ To the buzzard, Parry and I were tiny forms, our white shirts brilliant against the green”. The intense detail makes it easy for the reader to imagine what is happening; yet at this point we are still unaware of what they are running towards. McEwan leaves us in a state of suspense as he describes what Joe had been doing earlier, shopping and going to wait at the airport. The full drama of the scene is not explained to the reader until halfway through the chapter, on page eight, where McEwan goes back to describing everything in vivid detail.
Although the event that Joe is describing lasted five minutes at the most, it takes up whole 16 pages of the book, giving a slow-motion feel to it. The only other theme aside from death in chapter one is love. This is shown in the picnic and the discussion about love letters. Clarissa’s opinion of love letters is “ that love that did not find its expression in a letter was not perfect”. This is of little interest until the second reading of the book, where it is symbolic of later happenings, as further on in the book, Jed sends passionate love letters to Joe.
At this point, the only indication of this is the way Joe describes him and Jed as “ rushing towards each other, like lovers. ” The imagery used is very visual and varied, adding to the sense of foreboding and violence. Some such examples would be “ fatal lack of co-operation”, “ puny human distress”, “ it were as though an express train were traversing the treetops, hurtling towards us”, “ a mighty fist socked the balloon”. The chapter closes with a fine example where “ ruthless gravity” takes the life of John Logan, “ a stiff little black stick”.