Tuesday, July 08, 2008

50 Book Challenge #6: On Chesil Beach

Man, I have like 20 books to blog. I am so behind. Now I'm just going to blog a review whenever I finish a book, no matter what time of day it is. If I don't blog it, I will move on, and forget what I read or what moved me about it. The problem, of course, is my tendency to over think and analyze, my unwillingness to shake off the mantle of "but I was a lit major," and my verbosity. Argh.

I am a fan of Ian MacEwan's writing, if not his rather asinine statements about terrorism. I loved Atonement. I am no less enthusiastic about On Chesil Beach, and its themes of love's loss, life vicissitudes, and the consequences of choices made without even deciding to choose them. Save for a few caveats. Yes, one night in a couple's life can dramatically alter the course of their lives. But it almost seemed nonsensical that it would. The realizations that come the end of life (at the end of the novel), that both love and patience are required, that one difficult night could, but didn't have to, destroy a relationship and a future life together--these are rather painful but not obvious realizations. In short, a young couple have a honeymoon night that ends disastrously, and both make choices that night that are more stupid than terrible--and yet, with extreme consequences. Huh. Also, the wife's frigidity is never explained, and I really kind of found it hard to believe. I kept lapsing in my reading, imagining a Victorian novel, not one set in 1962. You know, I must say that MacEwan does not write the female psyche well. That the last chapter of the book deals with the husband's end-of-life ruminations and his experiences (how different his life path went after that fateful night! How different it could have been!) was much better and made more sense, as were the explanations of his reactions.

All in all, recommended as interesting, well-written literature, and sure, pass it onto your partner. Particularly as it deals with the question of "the one that got away." But I was tempted to include this in a three-book review called "I Blame The Patriarchy," except that this is perhaps the weakest indictment, other than "damn pre-counter culture sexual mores." But the female character is so underwritten and incomprehnsible, that I don't really get much from her experience or characterization to say anything about gender constructions. Here, there are no blameworthy characters or even comprehensible outcomes. This book is beautifully written and striking, and is making me think and feel vaguely unsettling things, but I can't really make sense of it.


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