Saturday, 18 April 2009

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

I have been repeatedly urged to read McEwan; so when this novella fell into my lap I counted it as a sign. I would guess that it doesn’t compare to Atonement, although some have said that On Chesil Beach is McEwan’s most tender work.

It is an exploration of the power of things unsaid and actions misunderstood. A young couple is spending their wedding night at a hotel on the English coast. Both of them, unbeknownst to each other, are virgins. Both are incredibly nervous, for different reasons, but neither wants to give anything away. McEwan explores their respective psyches, all the big and little reasons why they behave the way they do. It is 1962, just short of the age of expression – when repression was still in fashion, and young people were not yet encouraged to be individual or different. Florence and Edward, the main characters, dance around each other in what seems to me, being a product of my over-individualized generation, a ridiculously coy manner. Their privacy and delicate intimacy enraged me, really; I wanted to jump in there and shake them, and yell and cry ‘what is wrong with you people?!’

I am sure McEwan’s aim was to enlighten the reader as to exactly what IS wrong with Edward and Florence; the point of the novella seemed to be to justify their actions (and inactions). Although I thought the writing was tender, and the observations were insightful – I still didn’t really get the characters. I guess I am too much a modern girl; I couldn’t understand them or relate to them in any real way. But if anyone who has read this was able to, then McEwan did a great job. It is a very interesting novella, a quick read that does leave you wondering, and tinged with the tragedy of regret.

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