Monday, July 1, 2013

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On Chesil BeachOn Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My wife read this novel first and then handed it to me, which ended up making for a very interesting discussion afterward. It's essentially the story of a single moment in the life of two people on their wedding night, the fears and expectations, and ultimately the way they deal with disappointment. McEwan's prose are forensic, unsheathing layer upon layer of a point in time, to give the reader the sense of how momentous every moment truly is; personal and collective histories all mathematically adding up to a decision, an action, or inaction. He is less interested in the aftermath than in meticulously rendering the emotional and geographical landscape, subterranean as well as above ground, not to mention the importance of climate, in this the case, the late 1950s, on the cusp of the era of sexual liberation, the women's lib movement, the pill etc. Why do I say it made for an interesting husband/wife discussion? Because McEwan tells the story from both points of view, and I wasn't sure that he got the woman's side right. I was thinking that his portrayal of Florence as sexually frigid to the point of suffering was a bit extreme. But my wife said she thought it accurate, especially given the era. I was a bit disappointed that in the end McEwan raps the story up by recounting the way that the decisive moment played out in Edward's life and in Florence's it's left open-ended. Not sure what McEwan's reasoning was, but it felt like he baled, prematurely, and maybe given the events of the wedding night that's what he wanted the reader to feel. True, it left me unsatisfied, which would be clever, but in this case, not in a good way.

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