“Two weeks after the shooting,” Joe travels to Joseph Lacey’s home to keep their appointment. The next day, he arranges a picnic much like the one he arranged in the novel’s opening chapter, and the day after that he picks Clarissa up in his car and drives the two of them to Oxford. Joe experiences “a sudden ache” when he sees Clarissa, and he is pleased that their “week apart” has granted them a slew of “neutral topics” to discuss as they travel. The pair discuss their work—Joe has been researching a new article, and Clarissa is closer to tracking down John Keats’s missing letter—and soon they arrive in the Oxford countryside.
This second picnic serves as a shadow of the first and a kind of bookend: it represents an opportunity for Joe to resume the life he set aside upon first encountering Parry. Yet Joe’s conversation with Clarissa reveals that such a resumption will not be easy. Despite the fact that Joe still loves her, the two of them have been forced into the kind of empty politeness that might inform strangers’ conversations. Their former intimacy cannot yet be reclaimed.
Joe reflects on the intense fight to which Clarissa alluded in their letter. He refers to the argument as “an orgy of mutual accusation” and considers the fact that Clarissa’s letter has driven the two of them “further apart.” Joe dislikes the letter’s “clammy emotional tone” and assures himself that “sharing” his feelings, which Clarissa seems to want, is nothing “compared to” the fact that “a madman paid to have [him] slaughtered in a restaurant.” Joe’s conclusion is that, if he was isolated, as Clarissa has claimed, he was forced into that isolation by Clarissa and the police.
Joe’s way of looking at the world is fundamentally different than Clarissa’s. For Joe, the simple facts about Parry’s actions are the end of the story: Parry stalked and tried to kill Joe, and no other reality exists. For Clarissa, however, Joe’s behavior must be judged using an emotional scale. Joe acted correctly in a technical sense, but his behavior was nevertheless wrong in an emotional sense.
Arriving at Jean Logan’s house, Joe and Clarissa are greeted by Leo, who is “naked but for face paint done in clumsy tiger stripes.” When Jean Logan appears, Joe sees that time has not yet begun to heal her. Jean asks Joe and Clarissa to wait in the back garden, and there they find Rachael, lying in the grass and “working at a tan.” Immediately engaging with the girl, Clarissa tickles her with a “stalk,” while Joe goes back indoors to find Jean Logan.
Jean Logan’s appearance, by revealing the strength of grief, simultaneously reveals the strength of love. This message serves as both a rebuke to Joe and Clarissa and provides an example to which they might aspire. Clarissa’s interaction with Rachael, meanwhile, reveals that her character is fundamentally unchanged.
Joe asks Jean Logan to hear the “story” he wishes to communicate “at first hand.” He makes a telephone call to the college and asks to speak to a particular professor. Then the group makes its way to a meadow as Jean remarks how “good” both Joe and Clarissa are with the children.
By remaining “good” with Jean Logan’s children, Joe and Clarissa reveal that one important ingredient of their relationship—taking care of children together—remains what it has always been. This is, perhaps, a hopeful sign.
As they arrive in the meadow, the group sets their picnic up beside a river, and Leo and Rachael begin to wade in the water, accompanied by Joe. Joe and Rachael share an engaging conversation about water droplets, but, after a while, they rejoin the others by the picnic. There, the children share a memory of their father, John Logan, and a family vacation on which they accompanied him. Joe feels as if the “energetic presence of John Logan” has joined them as they talk.
Joe’s scientific mind is juxtaposed here with the emotional story of John Logan and his family’s vacation. Perhaps because she is a child, Rachael easily straddles the two worlds, discussing both the properties of water with Joe and her memories of her father with the entire assembled group.
After a while, a man and a younger woman approach the group and join them. Jean Logan expresses concern about whether she can “meet” this woman, and Clarissa assures her that “it’s all right.” The man, the reader soon learns, is James Reid, a professor of logic at the university. The younger woman with him is his student, Bonnie Deedes. Reid begins to speak nearly at once, revealing to Jean Logan that, on the day of the ballooning accident, he and Bonnie had planned a picnic of their own. They had had car trouble, however, and had been given a ride by John Logan, who was passing in his own vehicle. Reid and Bonnie saw the accident—they were responsible for the second car door being open—but they fled the scene once they realized that there was nothing they could do to help.
The culmination of the subplot regarding John Logan’s affair neatly reveals Logan’s guiltlessness. As a consequence, his happy relationship with his wife, Jean, can (posthumously) begin to heal. This narrative arc may be intended to mirror Joe and Clarissa’s own story. Just as John and Jean Logan go from happiness to suspicion to (posthumous) reconciliation, so Joe and Clarissa may make a similar journey. That Jed Parry is a character in both arcs merely underlines the thematic similarities in the Logan and Rose/Mellon relationships.
James Reid reveals that he and Bonnie are “in love” and that he didn’t step forward as a witness because he didn’t want to jeopardize his position at the college. Instead, they made their way to a nearby pub, where they encountered Joseph Lacey, who was in the process of telling a “group of regulars” about the botched rescue. Accompanying Lacey to his home, Reid and Bonnie received from Lacey the advice to say nothing for the time being: “there were enough witnesses to the accident,” Lacey assured them. Now, however, Reid sees that he has caused Jean Logan “distress,” and he apologizes to her with great sincerity.
The love shared by James Reid and Bonnie has been an inconvenient one for several of the novel’s other characters, yet that love (like Parry’s love for Joe) seems to exist outside of their control. James Reid is likely to lose his job as a result of loving Bonnie, and Bonnie, too, will be touched by scandal. Yet their love continues, nonetheless, underscoring McEwan’s idea that love strikes when and whom it will, irrespective of human preference or logic.
Rather than taking comfort from James Reid’s story, Jean Logan is further distraught. “Who,” she asks, “is going to forgive [her]” for doubting her husband’s faithfulness, now that “the only person who can is dead?” As Reid attempts to comfort Jean, Joe concludes that such a “breathless scrambling for forgiveness” is “almost mad.” He catches Clarissa’s eye and exchanges a “half-smile” with her, and though he seems to believe that the two of them are “pitching [their] own requests for mutual forgiveness,” he “just [does] not know” whether such a thing will be possible.
Though the act of forgiveness is emotionally satisfying and perhaps even morally right, Joe cannot completely fit it into his rationalist worldview. Stopping him is the same series of facts that has thwarted his reconciliation with Clarissa up to this point: he is unable to overlook her perceived disloyalty, just as Clarissa is unable to accept that she has been completely in the wrong. Forgiveness may be right, but it isn’t entirely reasonable.