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Ian McEwan
Chesil Beach
Vintage £6.99

 

Chesil Beach brings out the most damning truth in the phenomena of relationships; namely that two people are never made one by any amount of love, they are in fact, as given to us so delicately in the case of the two protagonists Edward and Florence, achingly disparate. It’s this disparity that makes Ian McEwan’s latest novel so bitter sweet; masterfully, he drives the couple’s relationship into an irreversible and awful corner, which is carried off with superb tact and intricacy.
Those who have been expecting another force of beauty from McEwan shall not be disappointed, his telling of a wedding night for two young innocents spirals to the final bed scene which is itself, something of a beautiful horror. No tiny sensation is over looked, no tremor of action or detail missed so that the reader feels the full extent of the couple’s ambivalence as they fall sadly into their act of consummation.
Florence’s love and revulsion as she prepares herself to at last sleep with Edward is shown in all its bitter contrast through McEwan’s meticulous attention to the mundane ‘She concentrated on the fabric’s uneven weave…and on a trailing thread that stirred in currents of air’ (page 99) Each tiny aspect of the momentous wedding evening manages to mirror something of the couple’s impending future ‘…the sound of waves breaking, like a distant shattering of glasses.’ (page 18)
However, the narrative’s hold tends to weaken as the writer takes us further from the couple’s hotel room, back through time and various other strands to reflect on the young lovers’ lives. As McEwan recounted the fine details of Edward’s previous university existence I found myself willing the story back to Chesil Beach, back to the fumbling awkwardness of the bedroom where most of the tension and excitement had been unevenly piled. Although these wide swinging deviations did serve to further highlight the actual distance between Edward and Florence, and the extent of their disparity – just at the price of the reader’s interest.
But the trailing histories of the two characters are gladly compensated for as the story folds to its devastating close, and the reader is invited to look with perfect tenderness upon Edward and Florence once more, with their gentle love facing up to their own heart breaking ill-fittedness. While perhaps not an unerring masterpiece, Chesil Beach is a banner to McEwan’s literary talent, his ability to capture the nuances of emotion and sensation between two people, exemplified excellently in this short but none the less aching story.

Catherine Woodward

 

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