Saturday, March 15, 2008

On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwen

I enjoyed this book. It was short and pacey and an enjoyable read from start to finish. I see it is described as a novella, which is probably right.

It was odd in some respects as, although it was seriously written it seemed, to me anyhow, not to quite get to the point. It describes the sexually repressed Florence and her hopeful and patient husband, Edward on their wedding night. Florence, for reasons which are never even touched on, finds the thought of sex repellant.

At the start of the book the author has a laugh at the expense of the sex education manuals prevalent in post-war Britain. This is sharply described with quotes such as;
Not long before he enters her ... or, now, at last he enters her ...
Florence asks herself ... Was she obliged on the night to transform herself for Edward into a kind of portal or drawing room through which he might process?

But the lightheartedness is mixed with fear and anxiety as we come to realise that the marriage of these two people who love each other so much is doomed. From their stilted conversation at dinner, while two awkward boys keep po-faces as they serve from a trolley in the corridor, to the farcical and disastrous end of their attempt at love-making takes one hundred pages or about two thirds of the book.

Without the quality of writing and the tender sympathy that McEwen brings to it, it could have turned out cloying and embarassing but the blurb writers have it correct. It is "exquisitely crafted", but as I said at the beginning, I wonder if he has avoided something darker. By that I mean the reason behind Florence's fear and loathing of even the thought of the sex act.

What can it be? There is an unspoken suggestion - no, not even something as strong as a suggestion, something much more ephemeral - of an unhealthy relationship with her father. Her mother is described as a driven politically aware, career-minded woman with little time for her daughter, whereas her father was a "business man" who took her on holidays "just the two of them" hiking in the Alps, the Pyrenees. Maybe I'm reading too much into that but I do feel that McEwen has ducked the issue.

I bought the book off of the best-seller shelf at Menzies as I'm a sucker for a blurb. Maybe I'll try Atonement, I don't know. Meanwhile I'm now reading Island Of Terrible Friends by Bill Strutton. This is the true story of a British army surgeon who set up a field hospital on the island of Vis during World War II. I visited Vis a couple of times during my sojourn in Croatia between 2004 and 2006. I was captivated by the place and its history so the places are very real to me although the events are not. I can relate though to Strutton's desciption of some of the residents and partisans. Anyway, more about that when I've finished it.

3 comments:

Miles said...

You are obviously have a soft spot for Croatia in general & Vis in particular. We are immensely privileged to have a 200 yr old house in Kut and are intent on learning as much about the island's extraordinary heritage as possible, in which the Brits have played a part.

I wonder if you have read Maj Gen Tom Churchill's book "Commando Crusade" much of which recounts his exploits on Vis? Also Leonard Reynolds "MGB 658" & his exploits when stationed there at the same time?

Since you were last there the authorities have marked & mapped an amazing web of trails all over the island which makes its wonderful flora & fauna accessible to all that are interested; all free of litter and waiting to be discovered, best in Spring & Autumn. If you are interested have a look at our website at http://www.visislandhouse.co.uk/. Enjoy, MR

west coaster said...

Ho there Miles. Thanks for dropping by. You're right, I do have a soft spot for Vis. It's an atmospheric place. I've just finished Island of Terrible Friends. It was interesting, and I'll describe it in a little more detail when I next post, but not - ultimately - illuminating about Vis per se.

Patrick Dinneen said...

I really liked this book, different style from others. Highly recommend it.

I liked the undertone of doom...