A bad night’s sleep in a hotel this week gave me time to finish Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach and provided the opportunity to write this piece for my blog. Talk about burning the midnight oil. I had a full day’s conference the next day and some of my brain cells were definitely out of commission. On the way back home, at the end of the Friday, I lost my way coming out of Birmingham, driving around uselessly for a good hour in the sweeping rain and darkness, battling with commuters, roundabouts and illegible dark signs, before finding the right turn off and head home, to arrive at around 9 pm. Not a good experience.
I read McEwan because he crafts his stories in such a very professional and succinct way (see also my review of Atonement). He flows from a present and moves effortlessly back, through the use of rather short chapters, to a brief description of how the two protagonists met and so easily could not have met at all even if they were moving along through similar words (hometown, London, Oxford). They have quite different backgrounds and upbringings but what they have in common is a 50-ish upbringing that leads them into adulthood into the early 60s when the world around moves into a different gear but they are not yet part of it. Then, in another short chapter we are back in the present and the excruciating embarrassment experience to both, what happens and why their marriage is not consummated.
And then, before we get the resolution in the final chapter which tells us how their lives move forward, separately, we learn more in chapter four about their relationship in the year before they get married.
At the end of the book you have the complete picture, the full story, through a very satisfying reading experience. McEwan’s writing is ‘exquisitely crafted’ as the blurb on the back of my paperback version tells us, and really has a lot to offer as far as this craftsmanship is concerned.
It’s a lovely story of how two people struggle with their ignorance of sex and how this ultimately destroys the possibility of a lasting relationship. The portrayal of Edward, despite all his faults and shortcomings is one of sympathy whereas Florence’s character is less satisfying, more faltering and flatter, definitely less sympathetic, I think. But then, she probably is!
And of course, having written all this, today’s Guardian also has a full review of the paperback. You can read it here. However, it is my very first 2008 book read completely. In addition I am reading short stories, but more about that some other time.
I guess I need lots of sleepless nights.