Friday, September 21, 2007

On Chesil Beach

One of the reasons why I like Ian McEwan so much is his penchant for writing about uncomfortable subjects: obsessions, incest, and in his latest book, the wedding night of two virgins with sexual hang-ups. What could possibly be more awkward than that?

In the early 60s when sexual mores are about to change, Edward and Florence are still very much of the 50s. Rather repressed, neither knows a whole lot about sex and both are rather uncomfortable with the subject. Both are from dubious backgrounds as far as opennes and communication are concerned; Edwards mother was mentally ill and the family took great pains to pretend that she was not. Florence's mother was distant, and Florence was cold to her father.

Florence is absolutely repulsed by the idea of consummating the marriage and does not know how to tell Edward this, so she simply doesn't. Edward is eager, a bit too eager, resulting in...well, some disappointing and unsexy results. The situation is made far worse because they don't know how to talk about it, and just say whatever words comes to mind, which are of course the wrong ones. It is all the more unfortunate as they were quite in love and very much looking forward to spending their lives together.

Despite the awkwardness of the situation described, the prose is very pleasing and the characters endearing. Privy to what's going on inside their heads, the reader knows that their relationship could have worked, but is destroyed because they can't communicate. The story sadly illustrates that love alone is not enough, and lives can be changed simply by misunderstanding and stubbornness. Beautiful and tragic.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Jesus. It sounds as if reading On Chesil Beach would destroy emotionally. I need to go read some Faulkner to cheer up.