The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 15 June 2008

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

A good choice to read on holiday, this was lent to me while away in Turkey. A short novel, skillfully written by Ian McEwan which could have had completely the wrong tempo had it been handled perhaps by someone else.
Briefly, the story evolves around a couples first night of marriage, in 1962 where attitudes to sex and relationships were more restrained, innocent and even ignorant. The story examines their courtship and their internal anxieties regarding their first night of conjugal matrimony.
The novel builds up the tension slowly and brilliantly throughout, so that by the time we have all the background and we face that first night with them, you firmly believe anything could happen.
The greatest part of this novel for me, and why it works so well, is that the narrator tells us this story retrospectively, from the present day, letting us know early on that things would have been much different for the couple had they taken place now. It would probably have been somewhat different just a few years on, at the other end of the '60s (post Pill and Liberation) where taboo issues like sex may have been more talked about. The characters have their worries, but reading about them, their needs, fears, their naivete, with a modern perspective, brings the reader to a fever pitch of helpless frustration, where at times, I wanted to yell at them, slap them out of their politeness, their Englishness.
Although for different reasons, our frustration almost matches theirs as the book builds to a conclusion, along with our deflation and feelings of regret and needless loss for them. I left this book with such a heavy feeling, which deposited me alongside the couple from 1962 in a hugely profound way, and this was because of the skill of the writing. The narrator clearly sympathises with their situation with great empathy as he unfolds the events. As a couple who love each other, if only they had belonged to today, it might have been so much different.
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J.C. Montgomery said...

I have seen some nice reviews of Ian McEwans work and feel that soon I will simply have to get my hands on one of his books! Thank you for such a nicely written review.

Also, I would like to thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving such a lovely comment. I also noticed that you have me listed in your blog roll. I had always wondered about that feature of using feeds instead of just looks good. I will have to consider how to make that work over at The Biblio Brat.

I will definitely be adding you to my blogroll and feeder. I think it is wonderful what you have begun here and hope to be able to visit often.

Again thank you, and keep up the nice work!!

Leah said...

Thanks for that j.c.mongomery, its really kind of you to respond so positively, its good to know I am on the right track. Your encouragement has gone a long way.
I hope you get to encounter Ian McEwans work at some stage, he is a very intriguing writer and his stories are pretty varied (i have only read 3 so far) and always give lots to think about.
Best wishes with Biblio Brat, its a great site and I will continue to look in regularly.
I hope you drop by here again soon.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye