13 April, 2010

On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

This book is my Book Group's April read. Given I only started it on Sunday, I figure I'm way ahead on last month's (The Poisonwood Bible) which seemed to take forever!

I approached the book with mixed feelings. The only other Ian McEwan book I have attempted to read was Atonement and I just couldn't do it. However, the premise of this book sounded interesting, a friend had read it and said it was good, and it was only 166 pages long - surely easier than Poisonwood's almost 550!

I was pleasantly surprised. I quite enjoyed the book and was eager to continue reading it within the first few pages.

On Chesil Beach tells the story of Lionel and Florence, newly wed, virgins and both worried about the upcoming wedding night for different reasons. It switched from the present time - the wedding night, to their courtship seamlessly.

McEwan's characters were believable, their fears palpatiable and their reactions understandable. Given it is such a short book, I developed rather strong feelings for and against the characters and their way of handling the situation.

If you want to know my further thoughts on the book, highlight the area below. I will "hide" the text as it will contain spoilers.

Florence annoyed me. While her reticence is acceptable, I believe everything that happens could have been avoided if she had only spoken up sooner. It is hinted that there is a possiblilty of abuse in her childhood, it also suggested that she is capable of reacting to his touch and not all is lost in terms of sex. It is obvious they love each other - in his willingness to wait, not push and hers to want to please him, to be willing to try and subject herself to what she considers a terribly abhorrent act. She herself admits she should have spoken up earlier and it really would have been better if she had.

Lionel I felt sorry for. Really, the man did every thing he could. He had no idea that what he was taking as signs of excitement - shortness of breath, flushed cheeks - were actually signs of panic. His anger after she fled the room is understandable and his feelings of  being duped and led on, while incorrected, well it's easy to see how he got there. What I found intersting is that in the end, after they have parted, the divorce has been taken care of quietly and cleanly, it is his life that is followed. His sadness, his lack of relationships, his never finding anyone else. It appears that Florence returns to her life, her music with nary a backward glance. And in this I find total sadness for Lionel.
he had never met anyone he loved as much, that he had never found anyone, man or woman, who matched her seriousness
And despite everything, in the end, the blame is placed on Lionel - for he didn't go after her, let her go and didn't chase her down Chesil Beach.