Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Numbering roughly 200 pages, On Chesil Beach is an arresting novella about a wedding night gone wrong. McEwan (Atonement) succinctly paints the personalities, courtship, and nuptials of Edward and Florence, two virgins honeymooning on Chesil Beach in 1962. The reader is privy to their most intimate encounter, an inept confluence which miscarries in the worst of ways--divorce. Yet, McEwan, delicately mixing in time and reflection, intentionally causes us to wonder if this tragedy need have happened at all. Edward, older and wiser, reflects that the wedding night, with a little more love and patience on his part, might not have been a disaster. He and Florence were well-matched in many ways; why should sex have destroyed everything? The reader can't help but wonder if premarital sex could have saved the marriage. But, perhaps, Florence's extreme reluctance would simply have squelched the courtship at an earlier juncture. On Chesil Beach raises good questions about intimacy, physical and emotional, and the power of regret.

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