So, here's this book I've been waiting and waiting to review. It's not that I didn't like it. I did. It's that everybody read and/or reviewed it pretty much already, and I'm not sure I have anything meaningful to add to the discourse. I'm sure I didn't exactly get all the cool literary things McEwan did with it, and I'm sure he probably did buckets of said cool literary things. I'm also sure that I don't quite understand all the societal forces in play in this tiny slip of a novel, all of which means I won't be able to offer you the wide-ranging, deeply perceptive big picture primo lit crit you are accustomed to seeing here on Leafing Through Life. Ahem, stop laughing. Anyhow, as you can see, of course, I am merely hedging to avoid starting the review, and I simply should not hedge anymore given the strikingly few books I am managing to get reviewed of late (Ultimate Bad Book Blogger 2009 trophy, I'm still coming for you!). And this is one of my Dewey Challenge books so I really need to just get this done. Really. Like, right now.
On Chesil Beach is the story of Edward and Florence on their wedding night. The novel follows as the couple blunders through the first few hours of their wedded life, one excited and the other horribly repulsed by the idea of what's immediately to come. As the newlywed couple draws ever nearer to consummating their union, they discover that they are ill-prepared in their naivete and lack of true knowledge of each other not only for this, their wedding night, but also for their entire future together.
Using the lengthy uncomfortable moments between the marriage and the doing of the deed, McEwan expertly weaves together the couple's past and their present. In just over two hundred pages he chronicles their first meeting, their falling into sweet, if ultimately superficial love for each other, and the unfortunate consequences of an evening that could have ended very differently. Even as the two contemplate their pasts and futures, their conflicting feelings about the moment at hand are ever present in McEwan's narrative.
On Chesil Beach is a very big book in scope that is, physically, quite small. It is a book in which very little actually happens, and much to McEwan's credit, it's very unlikely that most readers will notice the lack of action. In fact, On Chesil Beach hums along at a pace that never feels laborious which seems to be ever a danger in books such as this. McEwan has created a tightly written and stunningly realistic portrait of an innocent couple on their wedding night, showing us two people who barely know themselves attempting to become one. Beautifully wrought description, imagery, and characterization bring both the wedding night and the retrospective scenes of the beginnings of Edward and Florence's relationship to life in all their minute intricacies. Using his newlyweds who seem to be virtual strangers even on their wedding night, McEwan beautifully brings home the point that we can never really know another person completely, and maybe love isn't quite all you need when it comes to sustaining a relationship.