Tuesday, April 15, 2008
On Chesil Beach
What a disappointment! I really enjoy McEwen's writing style and 90% of this book had me reeled in. But the climax of this book is so mind-blowing retarded that it loses any recommendation points from me.
On Chesil Beach is a story about Edward and Florence. Two educated and good people, they marry as virgins due to their own personalities and also the expectations of the current times (the story takes place in 1962.) , McEwen effortlessly drifts between the thoughts and backgrounds of his two major characters. It's as if you get to be both characters for a moment.
This dance of thoughts between characters weaves between about a two-hour stretch of real time on their wedding night. All building up for The Marriage Act.
When it goes horribly wrong, the book falls apart. The book jacket exclaims, "A story of lives transformed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken."
O.K...here's a spoiler alert. Do not read this if you are going to read the book and hate all pre-knowledge about a book.
I'll try to be tactful, but remember...they are married and they were both virgins. So, this isn't really a "naughty" book, only an attempt at describing an awkward situation between two people who love each other but lack the depth of communication expected and needed between most people at that level in a relationship.
Basically, right before the moment of consummation, he is so excited by her touch that he unwillingly finishes too early. Way too early. It disgusts her and she runs out of their room and onto the beach.
He is angry and heartbroken and disappointed as is she.
They finally confront each other with their own feelings and have a fight. Not an extraordinary fight. Not even an extraordinarily cruel one. But things were said in frustration and embarrassment.
And then she leaves. He goes back to their room after her and she is gone. Their marriage gets annulled and the story fast forwards about 40 years (but only for Edward. The reader gets no future knowledge of Florence except from a newspaper review that Edward reads.)
I suppose it could happen. But McEwen attempts to dramatize communication, and how what is said or unsaid can alter events (pretty much a universal rule, I think) and he ruins a perfectly good story with a highly unlikely and disappointing ending. I didn't believe it. Or, if it did happen, then it was unnecessary and ridiculous.
Sorry if I ruined it for you, but I so enjoyed Atonement and the appropriate consequences of THAT "what if", that this story, in subject matter and result, gets a big thumbs down from me.