Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On Chesil Beach

I just read On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, which is on the Booker short list. I'm a big fan, and though I liked this one, I wouldn't count it among my favorites. It really is more of a novella -- I read it in a sitting. It had the feeling of an exercise -- a working out of a writing challenge. Certainly, in lesser hands, such delicate and intimate subject matter could turn out all wrong and end up a candidate for the infamous Bad Sex Award. McEwan is deft where his sadly matched protagonists are clumsy, however. He takes us back to the days when men and women could still be hopelessly uninformed and reticent about sex (early 60s in Britain, just on the cusp of the sexual revolution) and explores the repercussions on an idealistic young couple who have a very bad wedding night.

But it seems to me that he tips the scales a bit. It's not just that they're "virginal" and nervous. and that it's a "different time." He suggests that there is something much darker going on. Unless I misread, the woman Florence has a (repressed) history of being sexually abused by her father. That fact, to me, turns it then into rather old territory of McEwan's, where such themes of incest and sexual transgression recur. Maybe I just had other expectations for it from what I had already read and heard about this book. I guess I'm just left wondering what his point was -- and if I missed it entirely.

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