Vol. 1 No. 1 2007
On Chesil Beach
By Ian McEwan
REVIEW BY JAMES PETCOFF
N CHESIL BEACH, Ian McEwan's new novel centers around Florence and Edward on their wedding day, in July 1962.
A pivotal time for them and for the English society that has shaped them and is itself about to shape-shift radically - altering their conceptions and misconceptions, not only of the world around them but also of their relationship to each other. The concepts that each harbors about the coming sexual union that is to come is purely theoretical- both are virgins.
"But what troubled her was unutterable and she could barely frame it for herself. Where he merely suffered conventional first-night nerves, she experienced a visceral dread, a helpless disgust as palpable as sea sickness. "
They are both slaves to the conventions to what should happen on this night, as opposed to what could happen should they act naturally. To do so is not part of the cultural norm of British society at this time. The tyranny of convention will have its effect on this their wedding day.
Mr. McEwan uses music to great effect as a device for showing us the traits that govern the personalities of his characters and does so here.
"One of her jobs was to tidy the green room, and one afternoon she saw in a wastepaper basket some penciled performance notes discarded by the Amadeus Quartet. The hand was loopy and faint, barely legible, and concerned the opening movement of the Schubert Quartet No. 15. It thrilled her to decipher finally the words, "At B attack!" Florence could not stop herself playing with the idea that she had received an important message, or a vital prompt .... "
Edward's taste in music is at variance with Florence's and runs more to the popular blues music coming out of the London pubs and will be the avatar for the changes that shake up the social norm in the years ahead.
While the young couple tries to conform to the conventional traditions of the wedding night as an entrance way into adult hood, musical groups such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Cream will flaunt the idea that adult hood is highly overrated and create a youth culture based on improvisation and spontaneity rocking able, and she could barely frame it for her- British culture to its core.
Mr. McEwan's love for these two characters shows through the tragic/comic events of this day, and by the end of the book we are saddened at their lost of innocence but uplifted by the fact that they both now see beyond the conventions that in time would crush not only their marriage but their spirits as well.
James Petcoff is a writer/musician who lives on Cape Cod. When he is not writing and/or playing music he directs a mental health recovery program, waits tables at a local bistro and tutors teenage delinquents in English and history.
On Chesil Beach By Ian McEwan $22, Hardcover, Nan A. Talese, (June 5, 2007) 10-digit ISBN: 0385522401 13-digit ISBN: 978-0385522403