Friday, August 08, 2008

On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan)

I'm a fan of Ian McEwan's writing, his descriptive language draws the reader into the moments he creates, slowing down time to allow us to take it in.

This is probably best evidenced in the opening of his Enduring Love, but also in Atonement and this his most recent book On Chesil Beach.

It tells the story of Edward and Florence on their 1962 wedding night, watching the awkward virgin couple whilst slipping away periodically to explore the stories that have led them to this moment. The events happen ahead of the apparent sexual revolution of the 1960s that makes these circumstances appear to be from another world - and I'm guessing that a wedding night on which husband and wife both engaging in sexual intercourse for the first time is probably quite rare outside of most religious marriages today. History would say the awkwardness is avoided by not waiting.

What I find most striking in this story is the way that the couple are fatally bound by the cultural pressures around themselves and so unable to enjoy both physical and personal intimacy that could otherwise be a delight to them.
it rather amazed him, that he had let that girl with her violin go. Now he saw that her self effacing proposal was quite irrelevant… all she needed was the certainty of love, and his reassurance that there was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them…. Love and patience — if only he had had them both at once — would surely have seen them both through…. this is how an entire course of a life can be changed — by doing nothing
McEwan shows us all the unspoken fears, feeling and thoughts that flow through the minds of Florence and Edward which they're strangely unable to share with one another for fear of upsetting the moment, or worse unpicking the vows they've made earlier in the day. Theirs is a union strangely absent of the security and grace that makes marriage so glorious.

Tony Watkins comments at One of the remarkable features of Chesil beach is that the action of the tides sorts the pebbles by size down the length of the bar. The largest stones are shuffled down to the Portland end, while the smaller ones drift towards Abbotsbury. The danger for Edward and Florence is that the emotional tides in their lives will just as inexorably drag them apart. It all hangs on whether they can act towards each other in grace, forgiveness and patience, or whether they will harden their attitudes, underlining their inability to change.

1 comment:

  1. "engaging in sexual intercourse"?
    yowsers. no wonder it was awkward...