Academic journal article Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature

Postlapsarian Will and the Problem of Time in Ian McEwan's Enduring Love

Academic journal article Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature

Postlapsarian Will and the Problem of Time in Ian McEwan's Enduring Love

Article excerpt

ACCORDINC to Peter Childs, Ian McEwan (born in 1948) is "the foremost British novelist of his generation (144). McEwan's eligibility for such distinction rests on the nine novels which he has written to date. A highly thematic writer, McEwan instills his fiction with problems and preoccupations that are both topical and perennial, transitory and abiding. David Malcolm provides a serviceable summary: "a movement in and out of metafictional concerns, a complex interest in feminist issues, an interplay of moral relativism and moral judgment, and an enduring love of psychological fiction" (19). Perhaps the most fundamental topic--what might be termed the lowest common denominator of McEwan's fiction-concerns the intrusion of the psychologically deviant or disordered into the mimesis of character--a feature which Malcolm refers to as "the role of the irrational in his characters' lives" (14). In moral formulation, this intrusion entrains the notion of evil, in the guise of psychopathology. Yet, with equal cogency but perhaps less resonance, such dysfunctional deportment can also be construed in sociologically pejorative terms as the depiction of a modern wasteland whose denizens are animated by what Jack Slay, Jr., labels "haunting desires and libidinal politics" (1). From either perspective--the ethical or the societal--McEwan's novels ground their behavioral dynamics in what J. B. Bury, in a different context, terms "the delinquencies of frail humanity" (2.416).

McEwan's fiction has undergone a signal evolution from the macabre and audaciously, even brazenly, repulsive to modulations of malfeasance that are at once less shocking and more sophisticated. The first four novels--The Cement Garden (1978), The Comfort of Strangers (1981), The Child in Time (1987), and The Innocent (1990)--respectively foreground such abhorrent events as incest, sadistic homicide, child abduction, and dismemberment. The fifth novel, Black Dogs, deploys a countryside encounter with the two eponymous and savage canines as a device for opposing and interrogating two constructions of human life: the rational and the religious or mystical. Here, as Malcolm observes, McEwan eschews "the grisly horrors of his earlier fiction" (131). The subsequent novels--Enduring Love (1997), Amsterdam (1998), Atonement (2001), and Saturday (2005)--similarly avoid graphic emphasis on abomination, and instead probe the interface between the rational and the irrational (to cite just one level of signification) in more subtle ways. Yet crime and deviance continue to influence the plot, though in more attenuated form. Amsterdam turns on the ingenious stratagems of two men to kill a third who eventually achieves revenge. Atonement concerns guilt regarding false accusation of rape. Saturday in part concerns the protagonist's extrication of himself and his family from mortal threat posed by an incensed man whom the protagonist, with the help of his son, throws downstairs and on whom he must, a few hours later, operate to repair the resultant brain injury. Enduring Love, as we shall see, hangs on the stalking of the protagonist by a victim of De C1erambault's syndrome--an affliction which obsesses him with a homosexual love of his own invention and illusion. But let us turn now to deeper matters in the text.

ENDURING Love begins with reluctance to start: "What idiocy to being into this story and its labyrinths, sprinting away from our happiness among the fresh spring grasses by the oak" (McEwan 1). For the event which the beginning concerns concludes a cherished period in the life of the first person narrator, Joe Rose: "At that moment a chapter, no, a whole stage of my life closed" (8). The pivotal event or watershed moment involves the desperately futile attempt of Joe--and four other men who have viewed the same predicament from adjacent places--to rescue a terrified boy accidentally stranded in a touring balloon that had just broken free of its moorings due to the incompetence of the pilot, the boy's grandfather. …

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