“The beginning is simple to mark”. This is the opening sentence of Ian McEwan’s novel “Enduring Love”, and in this first sentence, the reader is unwittingly drawn into the novel. An introduction like this poses the question, the beginning of what? Gaining the readers curiosity and forcing them to read on. The very word “beginning” allows us an insight into the importance of this event, for the narrator must have analysed it many a time in order to find the moment in which it all began, and so it is obviously significant period of his life. And surely if the beginning is “simple”, what is to come must be complex.
This and the writers delaying tactics, attention to precise detail and a red herring hook the reader and draw them well and truly into the novel. The reader joins “Joe”, the narrator, as he and his lover “Clarissa” are enjoying a romantic picnic in the countryside. Bathed in sunlight under a turkey oak, “partly protected from a strong gusty wind”, the relationship between the two is yet to be divulged, but McEwan’s use of the phrase “partly protected”, seems to imply that these two people have been protected from such horrors until this moment.
Before the cry is heard and the race into the tale begins, a strong picture is painted; the reader can almost taste the air, and feel the “cool neck” of the 1987 Daumas Gassac as they themselves clutch the corkscrew. This attention to detail is a technique McEwan uses frequently throughout this chapter, to enforce just how important this day was to Joe, how the memory of this day has been replayed over and over in his mind until he is able to reel off the minutiae almost mechanically.
The reader is therefore drawn into the story with the morbid curiosity of what is to happen, what the “pinprick on the time map” of Joe’s’s life is, and how it affects it. When the shout is heard, and Joe’s’ life begins its descent “away from [our] happiness among the fresh spring grasses by the oak”, the reader is still unaware of what this “danger” is exactly. However we do know that this is the event that shapes the rest of the novel and is the fundamental moment of the narrative.
Whilst Joe runs towards the danger, he hears the shout again, followed by a child’s’ cry, “enfeebled by the wind”. Now that a child has been involved in this danger, it becomes all the more grave, for nothing provokes more feeling then the possibility of a child perishing. This in itself goads the reader to read on, willing the child to be saved, yet prepared for it to die. Yet we are still unaware as to what this danger is exactly.
As our hero races towards it, we are treated to a rather mathematical description of what is happening around him through the viewpoint of a buzzard, again giving the impression that this is something Joe has been recollecting and scrutinizing since it took place, looking at it from all angles, therefore giving it even more importance. The only clue we are given is the narrator revealing that the event about to take place is a fall, but who’s?
While Joe rushes to the scene, so too do others; John Logan, family doctor, wife and two children; Joseph Lacey, captain of his local bowls team, living alone with his wife; Toby Greene, farm labourer with a reliant mother; James Gadd, wife and mentally handicapped child; Jed Perry, twenty eight and living on an inheritance. Harry Gadd, ten years of age. Thanks to these short but informative introductions we now have empathy with all of McEwan’s characters. Someone is to die, but who would we rather it be? Greene? Unspeakable, for that would leave his mother (no doubt a meek and feeble old woman) alone in the world.
Logan? What of his widow, children and patients? It is to be one of these characters, and we are reminded this by the mention of the coroners inquest, but who? The automatic assumption is that it is to be the child, and this red herring is another of McEwan’s tactics of hooking the reader into the novel and making it impossible to put down. An important aspect of this first chapter is the way in which the narrator delays in giving us this information. He himself admits to it, to “holding back”, yet he uses language such as “fatal”, “aftermath” and “catastrophe” to hint to an imminent death of someone.
This technique is echoed in the way McEwan lingers on the period of time before the disaster, recounting the day from the very beginning. This causes a build-up of tension, it is almost like when watching a soap opera; the events to come are revealed at the start, and then the story commences from before they take place. This method causes the readers to feel impatient, almost wanting to skip ahead to see what happens, but too engrossed in the story, anxious for, yet dreading the moment in which the shout is heard.
Phrases such as “other outcomes were still possible” again add to the feeling of impending doom; other outcomes were possible, but they did not take place, this collision of men all intent on helping the distressed was futile. It is in these ways that McEwan succeeds in creating suspense that “demands a kind of physical courage from the reader to continue reading”, by using detail, delay and decoy. The first chapter is no doubt one of the most effective openings of any narrative, making it not only “unforgettable”, but achieving exactly what McEwan intended it to; the undivided and unconditional attention of the reader.