“It is a study of what we think we know and what is real”
In the light of this comment, compare the ways the authors of ‘Spies’ and ‘Enduring Love’ create a sense of mystery through their protagonists.
The novels ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn and ‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan were published just five years apart with ‘Spies’ being published in 2002 and ‘Enduring Love’ in 1997. Although not evident at a glance, these two novels share many similar themes and ideas throughout as the authors of both novels thread the theme of mystery and intrigue throughout their narratives. In the psychological thriller ‘Enduring Love’, McEwan presents Joe to be initially wracked by guilt over a balloon accident at the start of the novel and then perplexed by Jed’s bizarre obsession with him which inevitably leads to disaster, whereas, in ‘Spies’, Stephen’s youthful exuberance leads him to believe that Keith’s mother is a German spy during World War II and they spend majority of the novel engrossed in a mission to find out the truth. This has even led Max Watman from the New Criterion to suggest that Frayn uses an “unnecessary and empty suspense” while also dismissing the “wilful naïveté of the child narrator” even though the novel is of high literary merit and won the Whitbread Novel of the Year in 2002.
From the outset of ‘Enduring Love’ McEwan utilises Joe, the first person narrator to withhold important information, backtrack in time and use careful wording such as ‘Next thing, I was running towards it’ to create a sense of urgency and panic as he is describing the hot air balloon in which a boy is trapped as it is rising uncontrollably in the air. McEwan illustrates this panic by using the repetition of ‘a man’s shout’ to illustrate a sense of mystery and leaves the reader questioning what will follow this tense scene. Similarly, ‘Spies’ is also first-person narrated however, as a genre, ‘Spies’ fits clearly into bildungsroman style as it shows the importance of Stephen’s personal development from a young boy in the midst of World War II with relation to the storyline. Frayn displays Stephen as quite an enigmatic character as he revisits his old hometown describing ‘Everything is as it was…and everything has changed’. This paradox invites us to wonder what has remained the same and what is different: the appearance of the place, the narrator´s feelings, the people or the atmosphere.
Moreover, in ‘Enduring Love’ Joe is presented as an intelligent, analytical thinker who uses rationality to explain events. This is conveyed as he ‘remembered thinking, but not saying’ that the hot air-balloon was a ‘precarious form of transport’ which not only links to the idea that ‘It is a study of what we think we know’ but also foreshadows the imminent balloon accident. The aftermath of this freak accident resulted in the death of the character John Logan as he was the last one holding on to the escaping hot air balloon before plummeting to the ground. The writer then develops Joe into a man ravaged by guilt and anger at himself while spending the novel trying to solve the mystery of Logan’s death. In contrast to McEwan’s representation of Joe, Frayn presents Stephen as an innocent, credulous child growing up in the midst of World War II whose background is shrouded in mystery as we only find out towards the end of the novel that he is actually German and that his family moved to England in 1935. We can assume that the family were escaping persecution from the Nazi party as his father was Jewish. Frayn creates the majority of the mystery and intrigue through Stephen’s innocent viewpoint as he describes towards the beginning of the novel that ‘How adults behave among themselves is a mystery’ which displays to the reader that Stephen is too young to even understand the adult world. Furthermore, Stephen and his best friend Keith are absorbed within Keith’s idea that ‘his mother is a German spy’ and they are adamant to find out the truth. As the novel progresses Stephen describes Mrs Hayward to be ‘watching us with alien eyes’ which foregrounds their suspicion through this metaphor as it connotes that she doesn’t belong there in Stephen’s opinion. Comparatively, suspicion is also noticeable in ‘Enduring Love’ as McEwan cautions the reader through Joe to be sceptical of what follows as he notes, ‘a beginning is an artifice’ suggesting that whatever comes next must also be artificial in some way. Michelle Roberts from The Independent summarised that “It pits science against madness” and “reason against intuition” which is evident as Joe questions the truth in stories forcing the reader to question the truth in “Enduring Love”.
Contextually, ‘Enduring Love’ is set in a secular age but it could be argued that the historical context is highlighted through different characters. For example, Joe may be McEwan’s representation of the Age of Enlightenment in his rational way of thinking and his occupation as a scientific journalist. Clarissa is the manifestation of the Romantic era just after the age of enlightenment as people are tired of pure reason. Outlined by McEwan in chapter eight when Joe recalls her exclaiming that rationalism is ‘the new fundamentalism’ whereas, Jed depicts a time when dominance of religion is obvious such as Medieval England. Jed Parry is the antagonist of Enduring Love and is presented to be a very isolated and lonely man. Joe and Jed first cross paths at the ballooning incident and in chapter two both men have a mild argument about prayer. Parry lowers himself to his knees and invites Joe to join him. Joe is evidently horrified and ‘speechless’ but at the same time wants ‘not to offend a true believer’. Here, the author conveys both Joe’s opposition to religion and his fundamental decency to the reader. As this progresses Parry attempts ‘a radical change in tone’ asking Joe ‘sharply’ what is preventing him from participating. The suddenness of Parry’s change in tone warns the reader of his mental state and foreshadows his erratic behaviour that will mark his character throughout the novel. This trend continues as Parry’s sinister remarks such as “I can get people to do things for me” lead up to a man being shot in a restaurant while Clarissa and Joe are eating. Joe quickly realises that this bullet was meant for him but his pleas for help to the police are ignored causing Joe to take matters into his own hands climaxing when Jed holds Clarissa hostage in their own home. Both the relationship between Joe and Jed as well as Stephen and Keith in ‘Spies’ can be compared as they both present the supporting character as being more powerful than the central protagonist. For example, Stephen is ‘grateful’ to follow Keith, who enjoys being leader. Keith’s dominance and power over Stephen is made evident, especially as Frayn presents Keith, in Stephen’s eyes, as somewhat of a god: “One single heroic deed, to lay at Keith’s feet in the morning.” This image that is portrayed is that of a sacrifice, an offering to compensate for what Stephen feels are his inadequacies, and his betrayal of Keith’s trust. However in contrast to this Jed’s power over Joe much less discreet and unrecognised by Joe until he realises it is causing problems with his relationship and work. Jed then becomes convinced that Joe is in love with him and decides to wait outside his house and work to speak to him. This confuses not only Joe, but the reader as well because we don’t find out that he is a man who suffers from de Clerambault’s syndrome, which gives a person delusions of love. This causes Parry to make random connections that are meaningless such as when Joe brushes the leaves of a bush, Jed describes the ‘burning on my fingers along the edges of those wet leaves’ and was convinced that ‘he had touched them in a certain way’. McEwan does this along with ‘so simple, so clever, so loving’ to portray to the reader how the mysteries of love can cause major problems if the love is unwanted. The repetition displays Jed’s devotion to Joe and the fact that he’s ‘covered five sheets of paper with his name’ leaves Parry confused as to why Joe cannot admit his love. Moreover, Frayn presents Keith in relation to Stephen, within the context of their friendship and through their contrasting characteristics and family backgrounds, their personalities are created. Frayn’s use of Stephen as a subservient yet contented friend highlights Keith’s dominance: “He Keith was the leader, and I was the led… He was the officer corps… I was the Other Ranks, and grateful to be so.” Frayn’s use of repeated sentence structure emphasises the divide in status of the two. The relationship is presented as balanced by both Stephen and Keith’s contentedness of the power imbalance. Also, Frayn includes many references to the feared enemies of the time the novel was set: the Germans, and to the Blitz, i.e. the German bombardment of the United Kingdom. Mr Haywards has taken out the wheels of his car “to prevent its being commandeered, as Keith explained, by invading Germans.” Many Critics such as Jonathon Keates from the Times Literary Supplement have suggested that their relationship has “subtly inverted echoes of other novels” such as ‘Lord of The Flies’ by William Golding as a social hierarchy is presented in both instances as well as a plethora of war imagery.
The reader’s first encounter of Keith immediately constructs a sense of intrigue as the narrator describes him to be “framed in the darkness of the house behind”. This ambiguous description cautions the reader as to who this person is but as the novel progresses we learn that Keith is just as naïve and innocent as Stephen even though he is presented to be fairly aloof. Frayn portrays Stephen as a weak boy and highly dependent on Keith which is exploited by Keith. For example when the boys go into Keith’s mothers study Stephen voices his concern that her journal is “private” but Keith has no qualms about such matters and dismisses his friend’s comment. This dismissive nature follows a similar pattern when Stephen is playing with the binoculars and Keith ‘snatches them away from him’ and then patronisingly suggests ‘Go home if you’re bored, old bean’ which is a phrase he has copied from his father to belittle Stephen. Stephen finds it hard to articulate himself so Keith attempts to provide what he lacks which ironically backfires when he hangs a sign displaying the word ‘privet’ outside their lookout which obviously is supposed to say ‘private’. Frayn does this to reinforce that no matter how much Keith believes he is superior, he is still just a young boy who only has his privileged upbringing to fall back on. In ‘Enduring Love’ the mystery surrounding Jed’s obsession for Joe ultimately causes Joe to become obsessed with himself and is the beginning of the deterioration of his relationship with Clarissa. As the novel progresses, Clarissa is presented to be so confused about the whole situation that she even suggests ‘It’s like you invented him’ which connotes that Joe is so engrossed in trying to understand Jed that he doesn’t realise what he’s doing to his relationship.
This theme of obliviousness is also evident in ‘Spies’ as the two boys believe that the ‘x’s’ marked in Keith’s mother’s diary are some kind of ‘secret meetings’ and is a member of a ‘sinister organisation’. The truth is that the ‘monthly meeting dates’ are actually the dates in relation to Keith’s mother’s menstrual cycle. The other marks, occurring at irregular intervals and on Keith’s parent’s anniversary are the dates in which she makes love to her husband. Stephens thoughts on these dates are particularly humorous, ‘some secret thing, what is it?’ Stephen thinks. These examples again reinforce the idea that most of the mystery in the novel is created through their youthful naiveté.
The distance between Joe and Clarissa widens even more, and Joe beings to lose faith in Clarissa and has become jealous and insecure. In his mind he is speaking the truth, so doubts Clarissa’s motives and thinks she may be looking for an excuse to get out of the relationship. Joe puts Clarissa’s view on the situation down to her trying to hide an affair. He invades her privacy and goes through her letters in her drawer in her study but he tries to justify this to himself by saying ‘I had a notion I was entering to retrieve my stapler’ and ‘I wanted to see if the rest of my mornings post’. He even explains ‘There was a moral barrier I needed to hoist myself over’. Jed is making him paranoid and is having an effect on their relationship. There is of course no affair to hide, he finds nothing and feels guilty about what he has done but no better to how his feelings are as to why Clarissa is not trusting and supporting him. Adam Mars-Jones from The Guardian concluded: “the breakdown between Joe and Clarissa is the subtlest variation yet on the theme. A lovingly maintained fabric that seemed to have no dangling threads unravels thoroughly.” This verdict reiterates the mystery of how Parry single-handedly broke down their relationship in a psychological manner. Guilt is also shown in ‘Spies’ when Stephen lets Barbara Berrill in the lookout, he feels as if he has let his leader Keith down and imagines the ‘sharpened bayonet’ and how Keith will ‘draw it across my throat’. Frayn again uses war imagery to convey how at the time it was set everyone was engrossed in the war and the danger it posed. Another falsity that Stephen believes is Keith’s father’s heroism. Keith’s dad keeps a car in the garage. For reasons relating to Germans hijacking the vehicle, Keith’s dad has removed the wheels and hung them on the wall. Keith is very proud father’s knowledge and boasts this to Stephen. Keith also believes that his father is in the secret service. We can find the ironic narratives in this instance because we know the truth. Sadly, the great war hero that Keith believes his father to be is actually on the front line helping the Duration in the home front. This is typical behaviour for a young boy of the time the novel was set and throughout history for that matter, as nearly every child sees their father as a higher being, who they aspire to be. In a nutshell, Stephen and Keith’s relationship is presented as imbalanced through the theme of class as Stephen is lower-class while Keith is very middle-class. The inequality shown through the relationship could also be used by Frayn to symbolise Germany and England during World War 2.
To conclude, both authors convey the theme of mystery through their central protagonists in different ways. Frayn does this through the youthful minds of Stephen and Keith and how they perceives things to be slightly different from the truth such as Keith exclaiming that ‘My mother is a German spy’ without valid reasoning and as Jennifer Schuessler from The New York Times Book Review suggests, their relationship “spirals into questions of loyalty, guilt and complicity”. Whereas, McEwan creates a character in Jed who causes even the most rational, scientific character to descend into savagery in order to solve this mystery and prove to not only Clarissa but also himself that he is not insane.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Keates, J. (2002, Feb). Retrieved November 27, 2017 from Times Literary Supplement: http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/fraynm/spies.htm
Mars-Jones, A. (1999, Sep). The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/feb/10/fiction.features Retrieved November 27, 2017
Roberts, M. (1997, August). The Independant. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/book-review-spilt-personalities-1247923.html
Schuessler, J. (2002, April). The New York Times. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/14/books/the-lady-vanishes-every-day.html
Watman, M. (2002, May). New Criterion. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://www.newcriterion.com/issues/2002/5/guileless-games