McEwan immediately captures the interest of the reader from the first sentence of “Enduring Love”, by implying that a significant event had taken place by referring to the “beginning” and “aftermath”. Throughout the chapter our interest is sustained as McEwan, via the character of Joe Rose, the first-person narrator unfolds the events of spring day when his (Joe’s) proposal was interrupted by a ballooning accident.
Although the suspense of the balloon accident itself captures our interest, it is heightened by Joe’s retrospective view and scientific rationalism which imply that the consequences triggered by the accident of that day were more significant than the accident itself. Furthermore, as characters such as John Logan, Jed Parry, and Clarissa are introduced, our interest is further deepened as it is now our desire to know the consequences of the accident on all of these individuals.
McEwan engages our interest from the very start of “Enduring Love” by introducing the ballooning accident, which had interrupted Joe and Clarissa’s picnic; by contrasting the tranquil and romantic picnic with the dropping of the “corkscrew” and “danger” McEwan succeeds in heightening our interest as there is an abrupt shift in the story which intrigues us. When we read of the “child’s cry” our sympathy is provoked, certainly more with a “man’s shout” alone, and from this point we are completely hooked to the book, concerned of the consequences of the accident on both the child and man.
In addition to this, although the ballooning accident itself engages our interest, the structural manner in which the story is told also plays a huge role; rather than disclosing what the “danger” was from the start McEwan gradually reveals it by shifting to events both before and after the accident. Interestingly, by delaying the information McEwan not only increases our interest, and provokes our speculation on what had happened, but simultaneously creates a new interest for us, in the character of Joe.
This interest in Joe’s character can be attributed to both his peculiar and analytical, but intriguing character, as well as his retrospective view on the events that had occurred. His analytical mindset is displayed throughout the first chapter, but the best example would be when he is at the airport, waiting for Clarissa; there he examines the expressions of emotions of families meeting each other and although cynically concluding that “each appearance [was] … slightly well acted than the one before” he ironically admits that he too displays the same characteristics as “all the rest”.
This is not the only occasion on which Joe displays such peculiar traits; whilst recounting what had happened on the day of the accident he uses technical terms such as “elemental gas”, “nuclear furnace” and “multiplicity and variety of matter” which seem rather irrelevant, if not peculiar, whilst talking about an accident which resulted in the death of a man, but nevertheless play a significant role in sustaining our interest. The second characteristic of Joe that results in our interest is his retrospective view on the events of that day.
This gives us his personal insight on what happened which are also important in sustaining our interest. This retrospective view gives us new information that plays a sizeable role in not only shaping our reaction to Joe, but also the other characters. For example, Joe comments that it is “odd to evoke the figure of Jed Parry… ” which results in a strong sense of foreshadowing, and suggesting that something significant happens with Jed’s character in the story, therefore making us more wary of his character.
Although Joe’s character is undoubtedly peculiar, McEwan’s use of the first person narrative ensures that we maintain at least some empathy with him. It is important to note that Joe is not the only important character introduced in the first chapter, and McEwan introduces several characters, all of whom play an important role in engaging our interest. For example, Clarissa’s character, and her relationship with Joe are quite intriguing; Joe reveals that he feels that Clarissa is “in love with another man” – Keats, author that she spends much of her time researching.
Further to this Joe implies that he feels there is an imbalance in his relationship with Clarissa, and describes himself with the hyperbole of a “large, clumsy, balding fellow”. Although these things seem insignificant during the first chapter, as we get further into the novel, they become increasingly important, but undoubtedly even from the first chapter, we are left wondering what consequences the accident will have on Joe and Clarissa’s relationship.
Similarly, in the first chapter, Joe, retrospectively also reveals personal information about John Logan, such the fact that he is a doctor, and a family man, with children; this information heightens his character in our mind, and as a result also heightens the effect on us as he dies. To conclude, from the very first sentence of “Enduring Love” McEwan holds us enthralled in his novel, having used several techniques to ensure that our interest is sustained not only through the first chapter, but the whole novel.
These include the gradual development of what happened on the day of the accident, Joe’s peculiar characteristics, and the introduction of characters such as Clarissa and John Logan – with all of these combined, McEwan makes it inevitable that our interest remains engaged. In my opinion, out of all of these though, the most significant in sustaining our interest is that of Joe’s character and retrospective view on the events.