Wednesday, May 23, 2007

#35 - On Chesil Beach

For now, I'm going to post pictures of the books I read in context. I spent the weekend up north, so this photo is fitting then, with the galley (thanks Trisha!) of Ian McEwan's latest, On Chesil Beach perched on the railing of our sun deck. The last book of McEwan's I read was Amsterdam and considering I barely remember anything about it, I'm happy to say that my reading experience of this sweet, sad little book was extremely different.

The story of newlyweds Edward and Florence, On Chesil Beach explores how one very small mistake, a misspoken word, a poor reaction, can alter the course of your life forever. I don't want to say much more than that considering the novel is only 166 pages long and to give too much away would perhaps ruin it entirely. Suffice to say that it takes all that was so great about Saturday, the attention to detail, the exploration of family life, and the intimate details of everyday events, and shrink wraps it to a moment versus an entire day.

Set in 1962, On Chesil Beach, as much as it is about the change the characters themselves experience, it's also about the evolution (and later sexual revolution) of England in the 1960s. The setting feels so perfect too, even though the novel travels back and forth through Edward and Florence's lives, the one night that they spend on Chesil Beach truly impacts their past, present and future, and I find that fascinating. I love novels that challenge the idea of traditional storytelling and, in a way, even though McEwan's style is very classic, and this novel quite straightforward, it's how the author gets into the details that makes this book so great.

I can't tell you how perfect this was to read sitting in the quiet at the cottage, watching a loon or two float by, hearing the birds, feeling the pebbles underfoot, imagining the cold beef the characters had for their dinner...just lovely.


Anonymous said...

Love as I do just about everything from Ian McEwan -- his early short stories are gems, so exquisite and mature for a writer so young -- I have yet to dive into On Chesil Beach.

I can report, however, that I spent a memorable night on Chesil Beach some 25 years ago. There is no other place quite like it. Starry night, gale force winds roaring in from the Channel, and mile after mile of beach made up of perfectly shaped, perfectly polished stones the size of Wallker's Ginger Snaps. A prodigious Japanese Zen garden wrought by nature herself, but without the little rakes and bonsai trees. And as strangely soft to lie on as sand. I cannot vouch for the eponymous book, but the empty beach on a dark, stormy night borders on paradise.

Deanna McFadden said...

How fascinating! The setting itself is not secondary per se but not as important as what's happening with the characters, but your comment makes me want to go there right now!

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