On Chesil Beach

These last two weeks leading up to the Easter Holiday have been completely and thoroughly exhausting. Writing these words I can barely keep my poor itchy eyes open but as usual I have far too much to say, including a big thankyou for you lovely people who turned up to the first meeting of the Manchester Book Club. It was brilliant to get such a nice and varied mix of personalities and people at various stages of their own personal reading; whether it be the book-obsessed or those just trying to get back into it more, everyone had really varied and interesting tastes. Some YA fiction even materialised; a genre I don’t ordinarily touch with a barge pole but perhaps will get the opportunity to with this new endeavour?


Simon very chivalrously (ha ha!) allowed me to pick three books that, not only have I not read and would like to, but that I felt would be interesting and appropriate for a group of bookish people I had never met before – yikes! With two votes for each book you can see surrounding this post, the pressure to decide was left to little ol’ me, who after much agonising, plumped for Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. Although I did feel slightly anxious choosing something a bit more classic for everyone, I felt it would be an appropriate starting point for a Manchester-based book group, a true celebration of the city, and I am already enjoying Gaskell’s name dropping of roads and landmarks I already know so well. I also know a lovely lady I used to work with, a renowned expert on the author, who I’m sure will be delighted to hear I finally picked this up! I’d just like to also note that I am glowing slightly after reading the fab Alex in Leed’s mention of our new group on her engaging blog. She was a pleasure to natter books with and, along with everyone else, I am relishing what thoughts she’ll have to offer on Gaskell at our next meet!

Exciting events to one side, I thought it might be time I popped some thoughts down about Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, a book, like many, that I have had sat on the shelf for ages and that was just the right length and period to help come down from my 19th century Wilkie Collins’ – fest. Even if his books don’t always hit the nail right on the head for you (as it didn’t for me with Enduring Love) there is always something undoubtedly satisfying about Ian McEwan’s writing and On Chesil Beach seems to always be mentioned some place or other, even by my best friend who is known for his short concentration span and the mounting collection of unread masterpieces lining his shelves…..

I suppose, put quite simply, On Chesil Beach is an elegant statement about the complex and volatile nature of a new relationship. McEwan sets the story of Edward and Florence, a young couple enjoying their honeymoon in a Dorset Hotel ‘on Chesil Beach’ within a socially and sexually ambiguous period of time; the early 1960s; an age still suffering from the restraints and frigidity of the 50s yet close enough to the freedom that became so characteristic of the decade to feel the pressure…

 
Although I failed to warm to Florence, who, although I appreciated certain defining elements in her past that result in the tension she feels becoming physically close with the man she loves, I found a little melodramatic and superior for my tastes; the warmth I felt for Edward and his difficult family circumstance allowed me the room I needed to care about their predicament. I marvel at the way McEwan can portray such a complex series of emotions using such simple tools; two main characters, one bedroom, one bland meal and limited dialogue. The question is; did I really see tragedy (as many do) in this short tale? I’m not sure I do. This strikes me as a very well written portrayal of real relationships, life and people. I do hope I don’t sound all English and sardonic but, well, life isn’t a bed of roses after all is it?! What really got my brain ticking was the realisation, that I have occasionally had in the past, of how the most mundane turn of events can completely change the course of your life completely.
Ian McEwan never fails to astound me with how varied and consistently excellent his novels are. How one mind can have such a wide range of stories to tell and points to make will never fail to impress and I look forward to picking up those works of his that haven’t yet quite managed to capture my imagination.

3 thoughts on “On Chesil Beach

  1. I absolutely loved this book, and after not enjoying Atonement much (ducks) because I found it overblown, almost as if it was written to impress, I thought On Chesil Beach was a return to McEwan at his best, pared down, pithy, not a wasted word.

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  2. Have you seen the film adaptation of Atonement? I can well see how the film would have that overblown impression. I love Atonement but disliked Enduring Love quite intensely, finding some of the melodrama quite misplaced and inappropriate. I completely agree with you on this one. On Chesil Beach is so elegantly written and I think the length of the book is just perfect. I also loved The Cement Garden which, although very disturbing and different from On Chesil Beach, is a similar length…..hmmmmm….maybe a theme is arising here…

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