Masterpiece Monday: Enduring Love

3 Jun

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan.  Jonathan Cape (1997), Vintage (1998, 2004)

Image via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license

Image via Flickr user carolynconner under CC BY 2.0 license

  • ISBN-13: 9780099276586
  • ISBN-10: 0099276585
  • Contemporary fiction

The plot

One windy afternoon in the English Chilterns, a hot air balloon rips away from it’s moorings, and a young boy is helplessly lifted into the air while his grandfather battles to keep the balloon from rising off the ground.

Joe Rose, a scientific journalist picnicking with his partner Clarissa, rushes to help.  Joe is joined by four other men, including Jed Parry.  In the tragic struggle to rescue the boy, Joe exchanges a momentary glance with Jed which instigates a compulsive, dangerous obsession. Jed becomes besotted with Joe, convinced that Joe has fallen in love with him.

Why is this a masterpiece?  Why is it a DP recommended read?

There are many reasons why this novel should be considered instead of McEwan’s more commonly chosen novel, Atonement.  Enduring Love is a challenging read for DP/higher grade students.  Here are four good reasons Book Snitch recommends Enduring Love:

  1. The breath-taking opening.  McEwan uses this extraordinary opening sequence, a tragic hot air balloon accident to coincidentally bring Jed Parry into Joe’s life.  It is visually evocative and a tense, unusual start which leaves the reader unnerved just like Joe.
  2. The TOK angle.  One of the key tensions throughout the novel is he conflict between Rationalism and Empiricism.  The dramatic opening is juxtaposed by the slow growing tension in the plot as the reader learns that Joe is a man of empirical principle, one for whom there are laws which guide the workings of the world.  Jed Parry’s irrational obsessions canot be explained through scientific laws, and Joe finds himself helpless as he struggles to endure Jed’s inexplicable love.  There is a lot of opportunity to discuss Theory of Knowledge ways of knowing (emotion, reason, sense perception, language, belief, faith, intuition and memory) and how these inform what Jed and Joe constrastingly see as knowledge and truth in the novel.
  3. The suspense.  Student readers respond well to McEwan’s masterful creation of ever-increasing suspense.  Joe, the novel’s first person narrator, is soon doubted by his partner Clarissa and the Police when he tries to convince them that Jed is stalking him.  Through Joe’s inability to provide concrete evidence of his claims,  McEwan plays a clever trick on the reader, as we also start to doubt the reliability of his perceptions.  Students love this twist when Joe escapes what he perceives as an attempted murder.
  4. The potential for interesting and creative assignments.  The novel offers many layers of meaning and engagement for student readers, making it a great tool for inquiry-based learning.  Activities could include:
  • Writing from Jed or Clarissa’s perspective
  • Writing a third appendix to the novel
  • Adapting the conversation between Joe, Clarissa and their friends the evening after the balloon accident as a screen-play
  • A concept map showing all of the signals Jed believes Joe gives him to communicate their love, with TOK links exlaining how Jed uses ways of knowing to conclude that Joe loves him

Introducing the novel

One suggested way to intoduce this novel could be to use the lyrics of Every Breath You Take by The Police.  This song is often mistaken for a devoted love song.  As the opening four lines show, it is also about the obsessessive nature of love:

“Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you”

After playing the lyrics to your student, ask them to give their ideas about what the song is about.  At this point share with them the title of the novel ‘Enduring Love’ and ask them to consider the connotations the title holds.  guide the discussion to include the differing aspects of love.  You might include the following questions:

  • What is the definition of love? (for IB Diploma students you could make the connection with language as a way of knowing and the problem of definitions)
  • How do people behave when they are in love?
  • How do you know if love is requited?
  • What role does perception play in finding love?
  • Does love at first sight exist?
  • What does enduring love mean?  What else could it imply about the nature of love?

Try a tech tool

Visible thinking routines created by Harvard’s Project Zero are a fantastic way to get students thinking about a new topic.  One of my favourites is called Compass Points.  I would recommend using this routine to get students thinking about the idea of enduring love as a concept which has different angles.

I often use a Padlet to record student ideas and encourage student communication about this idea.

  • Padlet is an interactive virtual pinboard
  • Students can collaborate to add information and ideas to the same pinboard
  • Using it for  the compass points routine allows students to see each other’s ideas and record group thinking about the cenral theme of the novel
  • Check out more reasons why Padlet is great for education by browsing the features it offers

Using Compass Points will provide students with a broad basis for considering the theme of enduring love as they read and analyse the novel.  You can repeat the routine later with different propositions which will come up through reading the novel, such as Joe’s steadfast empirical view of the world.

You can see an example of IB English B Diploma students sharing their ideas in a compass points routine which asked them to consider different aspects of reality television.

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