Thursday, October 9, 2008

#5 - "On Chesil Beach" by Ian McEwan

I don't even know where to begin with this novel. On Chesil Beach, published in 2007, is the fourth book of Ian McEwan's that I have read. I started with Saturday after spotting it at the bookstore. I then read Atonement when the movie came out, and then Amsterdam because I think I had heard that it won some prizes or something. I've always found Ian McEwan's books fascinating to read. He writes in such explicit detail, creating completely believable characters whose actions and motivations are so clearly defined that it's like they're real. I have to admit, though, I didn't like the end of Amsterdam. The characters just seemed to jump too far, too fast, and I couldn't understand why they would do such a thing or how that was realistic.

On Chesil Beach is a short novel, only 200 small pages that follow Edward and Florence on their wedding night in England. McEwan is able to seamlessly tie in background about these two characters, discussion about their family, how they met, and their trip to the altar as their wedding night slowly unfolds. Edward is a young virgin, horny all the time, and eager more than anything for his wedding night. His only fear is that he will get too excited and come too quickly. Florence, on the other hand, is disgusted by sex and is dreading her wedding night like she's never dreaded anything before. But she loves Edward and doesn't want to let him down. What we discover is that Florence was sexually abused by her father, but she has repressed this so deeply, that even if she were comfortable talking about sex with Edward, she couldn't discuss it with him.

On Chesil Beach reminded me a lot of Atonement. The whole time I was reading, the tension was building, and I was sure something was going to go wrong. The whole story was moving and tragic, with no clean summations, or characters finally understanding each other, or anyone getting their deserved comeuppance. And just a change in circumstances, some changed words, or a different time could have made all the difference. I think that's what makes this book so sad, because McEwan almost shows the beginnings of how they could have made it through.

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