Tuesday, September 2, 2008

One has to have the courage of one's pessimism.-Ian McEwan

I finished On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan on Friday, it was my first McEwan and I'm a little torn. I tried to let it sit with me over the weekend, as I did with The English Patient; on one hand I really liked it, but on the other I didn't find it to be quite as engaging as the reviews said it was. That being said (and it is rather short) I read it in about two days, so there must have been something about it that kept me reading. Maybe I just don't quite "get" McEwan yet as this is my first. I have recently bought Amsterdam and intend to read it, although some of the reviews I've read have been less than favourable.

This novel was incredibly uncomfortable, but in a good way; I think that feeling was what McEwan was trying to convey. McEwan did a great job of using both the male and female perspective by alternately telling the story from both Florence's and Edward's point-of-view, and he was able to portray Florence in a very sympathetic light; which I find is often difficult for male authors writing about women in such an intimate and scary situation (I have to give props to Jeffrey Eugenides here, because he is also fantastic at this).

Both Florence and Edward seem rather cold towards each other, but there are glimpses that they do care for one another, and are rather products of circumstance and their era. Florence was in all probability abused by her father (McEwan never comes out and says it), and Edward's mother was left "brain damaged" after an accident, which I think caused him to have a skewed view of women. Neither character discusses these things with the other, thus demonstrating they're utter lack of communication. This in the end is what tears them apart. Actually it reminded me a lot of Jane Austen, obviously different of course, but as I've said before one of the best things about Jane Austen is that mistakes can be corrected and that one isn't doomed to live by them. Unfortunately, Florence and Edward in On Chesil Beach are plagued by inaction and the things left unsaid; only later in life does Edward come to realize that it was his own inaction that placed him at his final destination, and that maybe things would have been better if he hadn't let his pride strangle his words.

Actually the more I write about this novel, the more I come to realize how brilliant it actually is. While insanely frustrating and awkward throughout, that is its beauty; you want to jump into the book and shake both Florence and Edward violently until they actually say something of consequence to the other. So in actuality, this novel is frustrating, uncomfortable, and awkward, BUT ALSO brilliant, haunting, and heartbreaking. It's really quite tragic.

Alright Mr. McEwan, you win this round.

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