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On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

He is one of those authors that I have filed in my mind as writing middle-class white man fiction. I imagine him to be slightly fusty. I don’t know what I’ve based this on, perhaps the customers who seem to buy him. I was lent three of his books several years back, and I did open them, but I couldn’t engage. It’s not that I think he’s a “bad” writer, just not for me. Anyway, I’m such a Steven Page fan girl that when he enthused about “On Chesil Beach” and I saw that it was a slim volume I thought I’d give it a go. It’s a read in one sitting book, and at first seems to be a fairly slight tale about a virgin couples wedding night. It’s worth noting how well written it is, of course I know that he is highly esteemed, but really some of the sentences were so perfectly descriptive I was taken by surprise at how he successfully enabled me to feel for the characters. Edward is worried that he may suffer from premature ejaculation, Florence disgusted by the whole notion of intercourse, even French kissing repulses her, so the story hinges on their approaching physical union. It begins in their hotel room, where McEwan describes an excruciatingly stiff after wedding meal, served by two local lads. We are constantly reminded that this was 1963, just before the onset of sexual liberation and these two, in their early twenties, endure all the rules of the time.
My criticism would be that after such exemplary scene setting we are whizzed back in time to get a back story, and then plunged into the denouement. The end seemed hasty and way too brief, in the vein of …and then this happened and then that and then that’s the end.
I shall have to have another go at some of his back catalogue.

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One response »

  1. I resisted him for the same reasons, but although ‘Enduring Love’ annoyed me at the beginning by introducing a character named Clarissa, it turned out to be really good and ‘The Child in Time’ was heartbreaking.

    Reply

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