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June 18, 2010

On Chesil Beach

Ian McEwan - ISBN - 9780307386175

This wonderfully insightful book is written in breathtakingly beautiful prose which demonstrates McEwan's mastery of language as well as his comprehensive understanding of the human psyche.

It involves but two protagonists: a "peasant" man on the cusp of brilliant achievements in the field of his fascination--history--and his introverted fiancée, likewise on the cusp of a career in classical music. Both are somewhat withdrawn, introverted and naïve in their own ways; neither is able to accurately communicate their deep seated love, nor to deal with what, for most of us, would be fairly straightforward conflicts involved in daily life . . . and certainly interactions of a loving relationship.

He is passionate but tightly controlled; honoring her wishes to remain chaste, as she deeply fears the commitment to physical intimacy. She allows only limited contact beyond kissing, and sardonically eschews even his penetrating tongue as a disgusting invasion of her privacy.

Nonetheless, after a courtship during which he diligently works to earn the respect of his hard-driving, colossally successful, soon-to-be father-in-law, and the grudging acceptance of his aloof, academic mother-in-law, a tacit peace of understanding and acceptance is achieved, and the young couple marries and sets off for their honeymoon at an old inn on Chesil Beach.

Beneath it all is their disparate origins: one wealthy and urbane--after a fashion--the other primitive and "rural," slowly learning more genteel ways thru both his education and his contact with the love of his life.

Having carefully set the stage for the initial sexual encounter the author explores the inner workings of both of the parties. He deftly creates what might have been just another "sex scene," by poignantly describing the hopes, fears and inexperience of two virginal beings; one passionate and ready, though having no experience, the other terrified, but intensely working to allow said event, though overcoming her panic with faint attempts at composure, control having escaped her. She is aware of the expectations, but otherwise a victim of the situation and her predeterminations.

It is an engrossing epic, mordant, melancholy, haunting and absorbing, infused with the intense and powerful emotions wrought under the circumstances . . . and the outcome as it impacts the future decades of both of the young lovers as they move towards their distant futures.

The book is as wrenching as you are likely to read, ever, but so carefully drawn are the scenes and the dialogue that you share with the couple the humor and the scattered pleasures before the crucial debacle unfolds.

A wonderful read, and a little unusual, even for one by McEwan.

Posted by Curmudgeon at June 18, 2010 1:05 PM