Enduring Love, one of Ian McEwan’s most celebrated novels, is for sure a masterpiece. This post is mainly to discuss my first impressions of the novel and how it relates to, of course, gay literature.
When I first read Enduring Love, I could not fail to notice its Post-Modernist qualities: a psychological thriller where nothing seems to be what it appears to be, where communication between and among characters is impossible, and when I say impossible, I mean it: Joe, Jed and Clarissa for sure never speak throughout the novel; the narrative structure is so construed that there is not a single moment when the reader is sure that the verbal exchanges are real. It all can happen in the characters’ minds. Three narratives, ending in three appendices, three minds floating in three tubs: solipsism, the theory ththe humans will never have a definitive proof that other humans exist. All we can be certain of is that we, as individual minds, exist, but we will never know if what we perceive is just a projection of our imagination or if it really happens ‘out there’. This is the logical consequence of Rationalism, a theory of knowledge heralded by Descartes in his Meditations and which boils down to the famous maxim, I think therefore I am. Descartes gives the individual the certainty that he or she exists, but where is the certainty that the rest of the world exists? Evidence, but evidence filtered by the senses, and how about if our senses are unreliable? In the end, we dream, and yet we do not think our dreams really happen ‘out there’. So, couldn’t life be all a projection of our imagination? It certainly could, whether you believe it or not, there is no hard proof that the computer screen you are staring at now really exists. If it can exist in your dreams, then, how can you prove that you are not projecting it right now with your mind?
That, about Enduring Love, was clear to me from the beginning. What I have always felt uncomfortable with in this novel is its focus on the mind: like all Post-Modernist novels, it is heavily grounded in mental masturbation. We are a generation of paranoid readers and writers, there is no doubt about it. But going down the path of in-depth philosophy for philosophy’s sake has always worried me, and I feared the novel was doing just that. However, on thinking back about the relationship between Joe and Jed, a light bulb must have appeared over my head when I realised that maybe the deep theme of this seminal novel is not Solipsism, but… hear, hear, homophobia.
I mean homophobia in its strict sense: fear of being gay. Isn’t it strange how Joe feels that Jed is ‘stalking him’, more like a desperate lover than a real menace? And what has Joe to fear? He seems to imagine Jed waiting outside his flat’s window a bit like Michael Fury does in James Joyce’s The Dead, more as a fear of being inadequate than the fear of areal threat: it is the consequences Michael/ Jed can bring on his life that scare Joe, the fear of actually liking Jed, the fear of being gay. Joe’s attention to Jed’s footwear, white trainers with red (the colour of love, added onto the colour of innocence) laces far exceeds any attention he pays to Clarissa’s physical appearance. Putting all silly taboos away, boys like boys’ trainers, and there is a deeply homoerotic motif to it, coming from changing rooms etc. is Joe actually fantasising about Jed? And rejecting his own fantasies? He surely pays more attention to Jed’s physical appearance than Clarissa’s… Methinks yes!
Joe is for me the archetypal homophobe, like all homophobes not really scared of gay men, but terrified of being gay…
ENDURING LOVE ON AMAZON