Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Ultimate Cliffhanger - Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Public Domain
The first chapter of Ian McEwan’s novel Enduring Love is probably the one of the most stunning first chapters ever written. Besides being a great example of exceptional writing, it has a knuckle-biting, moral dilemma. A hot air balloon has broken away from its moorings, and a group of strangers try to prevent it from being blown away with its occupant, a young boy.

The dilemma for Joe Rose, the central protagonist, and the other men who have rushed to help, is when to let go. One man clings on after everyone else has given up, and the balloon is pitched into the air by a strong gust of wind. This last man eventually has to let go and dies.

I didn’t know, nor have I ever discovered, who let go first,” says Joe. “I’m not prepared to accept it was me.” He is left with a gut-wrenching guilt, leading to brutal self-analysis and self-justification: “The child was not my child, and I was not going to die for it.”

Joe’s encounter with a fellow helper, the disturbed Jed Parry who develops an obsessive bond with him, almost wrecking his marriage and his life, provides the starting point for the remainder of the novel.

McEwan's Prose

His economy of style, pace, length of sentences, as well as the brilliance of this moral dilemma, juxtaposed, as it is, with the gripping action makes a winning formula

For example, Ian McEwan says: “In John Logan… the flame of altruism must have burned a little stronger.” Lovely metaphor!  How much more effective than simply saying “John Logan was brave.” In this instance, the extra words do their job, make the prose more intense, more felt.

A stronger, more specific assessment of John Logan’s state of mind is  “…all his energies concentrated in his weakening grip,”

On the final page of the first chapter, the contradiction between fear and its disintegration into confused laughter is easy for us to identify with, imparting a feeling of empathy in the reader. These flashes of understanding make McEwan's writing believable.

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