Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On Chesil Beach (Spoilers)

This is by Ian McEwan. Before I read it, I heard a few spoilers, but only enough to make me more interested in reading it. Most were about Florence's relationship with her father and were generally feeling of expecting to learn that there was something there that was causing her to feel the way she did about sex, but that nothing ever came out in the book, and that was kind of a let down.

Let me backtrack. The book is about a young newlywed couple (Florence and Edward) in the 1960s, on their honeymoon. Both are virgins, for different reasons. They've been dating for a few years, and he has essentially been "waiting" for her, believing her to be the sweet, innocent, chaste young girl. She, meanwhile, is completely repulsed by the whole idea of sex and everything that comes with it, and always has been. She is very driven and focused in terms of her career and future in her string quartet, where she is lead violin. She never corrected his misconception of her beliefs or feelings, knowing it was wrong to lead him on all this time, but accepting that one day she would have to sleep with him, no matter what her feelings were, because that was what wives did. There is excruciating detail about their wedding night, through dinner and their brief encounter before it all goes very wrong, alternating with some history of each of their upbringings and family backgrounds. Overall it was a good book, and I love McEwan's writing style. I haven't read Atonement, but I definitely will now that I've read this.

Now, as for the thing about her father, and the expectation that the reader would find out that there was some sort of history of abuse there. I feel like that possibility was definitely there. Just because McEwan never reveals it, there are some hints around it. Edward points out that her father seems a bit too happy to marry her off, and is extremely accepting of Edward, perhaps overly so. The father is doting and loving toward his other daughter, Florence's younger sister, but hardly so much as looks Florence in the eye. Florence recalls a memory of sailing across the English Channel with her father when she was younger, and laying still in her bed on the boat, listening to the sound of her father undressing, and feeling as though she was ashamed, perhaps because of her lack of sailing ability . . . I don't know, I can see why everyone said that they expected something to come out later about some abusive past with her father, but I feel like that as there, just not expressly said.

And speaking of behavior and upbringing - there is something to be said about Edward's situation as well. The two of them are so very in love with one another, almost blinded by their love for one another, but his selfishness (?) seems ultimately to overwhelm and ruin the whole relationship. The questions mark is there because I'm not sure whether that's the right word - greed, maybe? Pride. His pride is ultimately what sinks their ship, so to speak. Their relationship is not ruined in the room, but later, on the beach. And it is in large part his pride that follows throughout his life, preventing him from ever looking her up or checking on her career, despite the intense, acknowledged love he continues to feel for her throughout his whole life. And I think that does go back to his upbringing and the problems that the family had with his mother, and again, his pride. It seemed as though she felt the same way about him at the end too, as she looked at the one seat in the theatre when her quartet played in the theatre. Her explanation for never trying to contact him was clear and reasonable, after what he said on the beach, he made himself pretty clear.

Either way - my criticism of this book was that the ending was so very focused on him, and barely mentioned her. It worked, don't get me wrong - the ending definitely made sense and worked, but I would have liked to know more about her life after the night on the beach. But over all, highly recommended.

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