Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan


On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (2007) - Shortlisted for Man Booker prize 2007

I acknowledge that I am a McEwan fan, Atonement is one of my favorite novels, I have read First Love, Last RitesEnduring LoveAmsterdam and Saturday and enjoyed them all.

 I am not sure that I can entirely explain what it is about McEwans writing that speaks to me. I think some of it has to do with his very Englishness. I love a novel that transports me so clearly to an English landscape. His prose is very beautiful and precise. He has a scientific bent, I appreciated all the neurobiology details inSaturday and there is a lot of well researched scientific detail in Enduring Love. All this only partially explains my attraction to McEwans writing..

On Chesil Beach does not disappoint.  I think it is a perfectly crafted miniature artwork. There was a lot of discussion around the length of this book - but to me that is irrelevant, it is the ideal length for the story it contains. McEwan uses his words wisely and I appreciate that.

This story is a very sad love story, about Edward and Florence and their inability to consummate their marriage. It is frustrating to see these characters struggle to communicate their feelings. They are a product of their 1940s upbringing and to a certain extent their English sense of reserve and propriety.

" ...Edward had been mesmerized by the prospect that on the evening of a given date in July the most sensitive portion of himself would reside, however briefly, within a naturally formed cavity inside this cheerful, pretty, formidably intelligent woman. How this was to be achieved without absurdity, or disappointment, troubled him...."
As indeed the mechanical details will trouble the reader for several uncomfortable but beautifully written pages.
Once again the sense of place and time is central to understanding this novel, 
" The Pill was a rumour in the newspapers, a ridiculous promise, another of those tall tales about America. The Blues he heard at the Hundred club suggested that all around him just out of sight, men of his age were leading explosive, untiring sex lives, rich with gratifications of every kind. Pop music was bland, still coy on the matter, films were a little more explicit, but in Edwards circle the men had to be content with telling dirty jokes, uneasy sexual boasting and boisterous camaraderie driven by furious drinking, which reduced further their chances of meeting a girl." 
Beautiful and heartbreaking. A well deserved Booker shortlisted novel.. 
4.5 stars

I am always about a year behind in my reviews of prize winning novels, so there are probably heaps of blog reviews of this book - here are a couple I admire, ( well the writing at least if not the opinion....)

Guardian book blog

Asylum review


First Tuesday Bookclub Transcript To quote host Jennifer Byrne – the book is about "The missed moment, the one thing that destroys everything.." which I think is very true. The scene on the beach at the end is the defining moment of the novel.

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