Thursday, 4 July 2013

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

"For over a year, Edward had been mesmerised by the prospect that on the evening of a given date in July the most sensitive portion of himself would reside, however briefly, within a naturally formed cavity inside this cheerful, pretty, formidably intelligent woman."

The premise of this novel is fairly simple - it follows two people in 1962 on their wedding night which is being spent on Chesil Beach. Although this does not sound particularly riveting, things do not go completely smoothly for the characters which causes intrigue into their motivations.

Florence is a concert violinist and part of an affluent Oxford family whilst Edward is a history enthusiast and from a middle class family. Whilst Florence is somewhat detached from her family, we see Edward as being closer to his family with his father being a headteacher and his mother being brain-damaged.

Ian McEwan - the author
Like other McEwan novels we are able to understand more about the characters through flashbacks, allowing us to see their motivations. This means that much more emphasis is placed on their characters than the actual wedding night with us being able to see their lives before marriage. For Florence this means her career as principal violinist in a quartet with aspirations to play at Wigmore Hall and for Edward this means his family life and enthusiasm for history.

For me the most interesting theme within the novel was that of convention versus individuality. This is seen through the revulsion of Florence to perform her marital duty despite knowing that this is what is expected of her. She is repulsed by the notion of sex but does not tell Edward this because she believes that these feelings undermine her as a woman; however her withholding of information ultimately does more harm than good. This plot only works due to the fact that the story is set in 1962 because at this time people were less likely to engage in sex before marriage and even less likely to discuss sex; therefore Florence feels isolated and the pressure of societal conventions as being upon her.

Until researching McEwan's motivation for the novel I was unaware of the controversy which surrounded it. Apparently McEwan took some stones from Chesil Beach in order to use them as inspiration; however this incurred the wrath of the local people who threatened a £2,000 fine if they were not returned due to the protected nature of the area.

I was not too enamoured with this novel and probably would not recommend it to a friend, despite being able to see its technical merits. I think that the reason for this is because I am not a huge fan of short stories, often finding them too short to have a fully rounded story which captures my imagination. However, what drew me initially to the novel was not its premise but its location because I live close to Chesil Beach and for that reason alone it was of some interest to me.

Please let me know in the comments what you think of this McEwan novel and whether it is just me who isn't a great fan of the 'short story'.


No comments:

Post a Comment