Review: On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

On Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan
Anchor Books
(203 pgs)
2007's On Chesil Beach exemplifies what I admire about Ian McEwan's writing - the simplicity, the matter-of-fact straightforward style of his hand is beautifully displayed in this 200-page novella.

Edward and Florence have just been married, and have arrived at an inn on Chesil Beach for their honeymoon. The reader is immediately thrown into an extremely intimate setting, one that becomes all the more uncomfortable when the internal monologues and histories of these two characters are brought to light.

Separated into chapters, McEwan deftly alternates between their individual past and present. perspectives, giving his reader the sense that we know a little too much - even more than one does of the other. Their combined story, though it will only take an avid reader an hour or so to finish the book, reads like a five-act Shakespearean tragedy, filled with those slight betrayals which always bring a tragedy to its unpleasant climax.

McEwan has never been one to shy away from explicit naturalism (Enduring Love) and this story, though tantalizingly brief, is no exception. But that gritty sort of treatment is, unlike in the case of many of McEwan's contemporaries, never gratuitous - rather, it always plays into the larger metaphor at hand. In this case: an all-embracing criticism of inaction and the failure that follows. And instead of giving the reader the romance that one might want out of this kind of story, instead the author embraces the melancholy of reality and is absolutely merciless in rending one's idyllic image of happiness and reconciliation in two.


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