#5 - On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
I picked up On Chesil Beach on the premise that I was wowed by McEwan's Atonement, probably his best and most famous work and one of my favorites books (the movie is amazing too). As an author he has a great ability to take what was supposed to be an ordinary day, or even an event, and turn it on its head to change the characters' lives forever. He utilized his skill with a hot summer's day in Atonement and I was hoping he would do the same with On Chesil Beach.
Florence and Edward are a newly married couple in 1962 England. The book begins at their first dinner together as a married couple. McEwan lets you know right away that they're both virgins and so its clear that this novel is about the consummation of their wedding night. Edward has been looking forward to this night for quite a long time, while Florence has been dreading it. The way McEwan described Florence's feelings left me confused for a majority of the novel. Maybe I'm used to dramatic soap opera like revelations, but I swear I thought she was hiding a penis or had some horrible deformity that she didn't want Edward to see. At times it seemed like she was actually fearful of the act.
The book's greatest moment is the climatic scene (ha) where Florence and Edward attempt to have sex for the first time. Let's just say it goes horribly wrong in one of those "OH GOD NO" situations. Because of said situation, the entire basis of their marriage is forever ruined. One night, one action, and everything changes. I found humor in it, mainly because I'm a jerk with a collegiate sense of humor, but I doubt Florence and Edward would agree with me considering how it effects their marriage.
Throughout their wedding night, McEwan weaves in anecdotes from Edward and Florence's memories. How they met. Background information of their parents. Their individual hopes and dreams. I found some of them to be superfluous to the novel, but some did help to build the characters of Edward and Florence and show us why they reacted the way they did following their attempt to consummate their marriage.
Another thing I liked about the book was how McEwan tied everything together at the end. The language and imagery really clicked for me. I suppose it's because I wasn't looking to see what would happen next, I could just enjoy the writing of McEwan. It's no lie that he's a great writer and his grasp of the English language is breathtaking at times. I was able to imagine their futures in movie-reel fashion. My favorite part takes place during the debut of Florence's quartet. His description of it carried a beautiful tragicness that I can't stop replaying in my head.
The book is good. It's well written, but it just didn't move me enough. I was left feeling flat. I know I shouldn't compare all of McEwan's works to Atonement, but that book got so many emotions out of me that I could be considered psychotic by the emotional mindfuck he put me through. I guess I was looking for the same reactions to On Chesil Beach and it just didn't happen.