On Chesil Beach (publ. 2007) is the tenth novel by Ian McEwan, a very powerful story with perceptive observations of the surroundings and a human mind – a story that follow the proceedings of one wedding night set on an English seashore in the early 1960’s.
Florence and Edward, the protagonists of Chesil Beach, are two young adults, who have just got married. The nervousness of newlyweds can be sensed already from the beginning, as they start their early dinner in the hotel room of their wedding night with the presence of two servants: ”Two youths in dinner jackets served them from a trolley parked outside in the corridor, and their comings and goings through what was generally known as the honeymoon suite made the waxed oak boards squeak comically against the silence. Proud and protective, the young man watched closely for any gesture or expression that might have seemed satirical. He could not have tolerated any sniggering” (p.4). The clinical, upper class atmosphere of the hotel can be sensed also in the description of the interiors: ”In the next room, visible through the open door, was a four-poster bed, rather narrow, whose bedcover was pure white and stretched startlingly smooth, as though by no human hand”. As we can sense, the stiffness of the atmosphere is palpable. These descriptions set the base for the lives of the couple, whose interaction with each other is about to start thoroughly not only before this night – despite the fact, they have known each other for more than a year. To explore the sexuality is an exciting thing for these two who are described as virgins. Yet, as we come to discover along the story, this exploration has already been imagined in their minds to some certain extent…
Everybody in the book circle agreed on the beautiful language use of the author and that his style is very captive already from the first sentence of the book. It is not solely the plot of the story, but more of his talent to write vividly and describe emotions so precisely. Ian McEwan really manages to convey the excitement and inner thoughts of his protagonists, in a moving way.
(A note of interest: The quiet beach on the background of the story makes a striking contrast to the restlessness of the surrounding society – Great Britain as a country in the early 1960s was going through some big changes as the times of colonial ruling times had just been left behind. The colonial power is now collapsing, as we can hear on the news on the background of a scene. Colonial power is often interpreted as a masculine power, according to some postcolonial feminist theories. Also, it is the decade of when P-pill was introduced.)
For Finnish readers, Vastapaino Publisher has released a book called “Hajoava perhe: romaani monitieteisen tutkimuksen välineenä (in 2015) that explores the ideas and notions of a family and relationship, and where McEwan’s book is used as an example. This might be an interesting piece of reading for further reading, as well.