My lecturer Darryl read the first chapter of this book to us and it was the most captivating chapter of any book I have heard read, partly because Darryl is such a good reading orator. He once read my essay aloud and made it sound like it was written by a famous author instead of me. Still, credit must be given for the vivid opening chapter of this book, where the scene is so richly described, the moral dilemma so real, one can’t put the book down until the chapter is finished.
Joe and Clarissa are in the middle of a field having a picnic when they spotted a hot-air balloon in trouble. A man is entangled in the rope while trying to land the balloon, with his grandson calling for help in the basket. Four different men, including Joe, rush to help and each manage to hold on to a rope on all sides but a strong gust of wind blow them up. If all were to continue holding on, they might just manage to get the balloon down when the wind dies. But one man lets go and the balloon drifts higher. What do you do if you are hanging on one of the rope and the balloon is drifting higher?
All other three men let go just in time, with bruises and broken bones, except one, who eventually falls to his death.
An inquest to the accident is held but don’t expect much about the accident to follow, for the book veers off tangent and instead focuses on de Clerembault’s syndrome (an appendix at the end of the book explains it if you want to learn more), when one of the men, Jed Perry, thinks himself in love with Joe and stalks him. The story becomes more bizarre as Clarissa does not believe Joe and thinks him paranoid. Joe somehow knows Jed will kill him and a chapter is dedicated to him going to buy a gun.
Ian McEwan is very detailed in his description and you can visualize his description clearly, whether it is a fight, an assassination attempt, or a description about his toiletry, where after the purchase of his gun, he goes to defecate in a field. I did wonder what has that got to do with the story. It’s like the writer just wanted to put it in just so because he could describe it so well.
Like I said, the story is simply bizarre. Read to learn from his beautiful prose instead, which if you like action scenes, would slow you down to a drag. But since I was reading the book like a writing student, I savor every word and sentence of his.