Title: On Chesil Beach
Author: Ian McEwan
I love used books mostly because of the crap you find inside them. Receipts, plane tickets, love letters, movie stubs, money – I’ve found it all.
In On Chesil Beach, a book published in 2007, I found a 1990 Wall Street Journal clipping of a book review written by Richard Locke. It discussed McEwan’s most recent title at that time, Innocent, and compared him and other contemporary authors to Graham Greene.
It was the highlight of McEwan’s novel for me, the only other redeeming quality being McEwan’s excellent prose and the use of the word ‘wafted.’
I’ve read other work by McEwan, Amsterdam and the world famous Atonement, and was eager to find a McEwan title that broke the tie of love/hate for McEwan’s work. I hated Amsterdam, I loved Atonement. Where does McEwan fit in my life on the scale of authors I cherish or disregard?
Where Atonement is equally crass and sexually driven, at least with Atonement there was an epic tale to be told. Amsterdam appalled me in some way, but I cannot recall why because I was so unmoved by the characters or the story, I cannot remember a bit of it. It was boring and the people were none I could sympathize with. On Chesil Beach was just depressing, and not in a beautiful way. Instead, it left me feeling empty and thinking that those two (Florence and Edward) were complete idiots. Atonement was devastating, but in a rich way… beware of how your actions affect others! Atonement screams.
As I told fellow book clubbers, I think Atonement is an atypical novel for McEwan. It highlights all his strengths as a novelist and abandons a lot of the things I dislike about his other work.
I didn’t enjoy On Chesil Beach, but as usual McEwan’s prose was lovely. I just didn’t like the story. I was uncomfortable with two married people trying to figure out how to have sex on their honeymoon for 200 pages. Amsterdam was equally annoying and somewhat dull.
Atonement is truly the equal opposite of the other two titles. It has layers upon layers, I sympathize with characters. Briony, though a sort of villain, is also a rich, multifaceted character. It is a genius piece of work that can be discussed along side the genius of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden without ever wondering why it is sharing shelf space with such a prolific artist of words.
Bryonies are occasionally grown in gardens, sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately so. Some species find use in herbal medicine. Generally however, these plants are poisonous, some highly so, and may be fatal if ingested. – Wikipedia
This time, a fellow HPB Humble Book Clubber pointed out the stunning use of windows, glass, and viewpoints of the characters. As well as Triton being the statue in the fountain that supplied the initial setting for all the confusion… Triton who is a messenger of the sea, and the confusion being that of miscommunications and vivid imaginations. There is a wealth of things to dive into when re-reading the book.
Even if On Chesil Beach offers similar literary gems to dig into, I have no desire to do so. I feel as though Edward and Florence have annoyed me enough already in this lifetime. I debate, even now as I type, whether to keep the book at all. I may give it away, it is in near mint condition and other people enjoy things I do not. But neurotic hoarder in me wants to create a shelf in my library of all books I find featuring the word ‘wafted’ and perch it there along with the rest. It is a good thing I am married. I am sure my husband will cock an eyebrow in that meaningful way that says ‘Don’t be crazy’ and I shall submit to the idea that it makes a better gift than tribute to my odd obsessions.