On Chesil Beach


It has taken me a while to decide how I feel about Ian McEwan's most recent book. I finished it some days ago in a flurry of distaste, or perhaps better disgruntlement. Reflecting on it since then, I have changed my mind and decided that my reaction was shaded by how I wanted the book to be and the possibilities I saw in the characters. Unfortunately, I did not write the book.

And I say unfortunately advisedly because it is very much a book I would have like to have written. It is beautifully understated and very controlled. The action takes place essentially in one evening--the wedding evening of a young couple who have gone to the beach for their honeymoon. The subject is the anxiety that is brought to a moment when two inexperienced young people are about to become experienced.

Interestingly, as I started to read the book, I was under the impression that it dealt with a couple in Edwardian times. As I continued, I discovered that it actually begins in 1962. Now, I haven't any basis to reflect on the attitudes of 1962; however, this portrayed quite a different picture than I had conceived of for the time. There are phrases in it like "before it was a virtue to be young" and other such attitudes that I wouldn't have placed so late in time. And yet, perhaps it was so.

The ending. . . ah, the problematic ending, where everything comes together and flies apart--as I said at the start, it isn't what I would have had the book be, and yet there is a post-modern logic and a pre-modern sensibility that informs it and dissects it in a way that is subtle and pointed. I don't know whether I like it yet; however, it is clear from the beginning, foreshadowed throughout, and the obvious capstone on the tale. One cannot fault the story for being consistent.

If you want to read a beautiful, sensitive, incisive, study and deconstruction of the post-modern attitude, you could hardly do better than On Chesil Beach. Obviously, given the theme, recommended for adults only.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 14, 2007 6:45 AM.

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