Sadly I have added a new entry to BookieMonster’s list of Do Not Likes. And I say “sadly” because I am genuinely sad about this one, I wanted to like it, I was really excited about finding a copy to read but when I read it I found myself increasingly confused and feeling a growing sense of loathing.
“It” is On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. Now I want to be an Ian McEwan fan. It seems from my other Likes that I should be the ideal Ian McEwan fan. I mean, I genuinely enjoy Booker Prize-winning books (odd, I know), I tend towards UK writers and I may be a tiny little literary snob. But other than Amsterdam (which I read a long time ago and can’t remember disliking) I just haven’t liked any of his books.
On Chesil Beach is the story of the wedding night of Florence and Edward, married that day, virgins still and anticipating their wedding night, though for completely different reasons. I can admire the technical virtuosity of the writing in On Chesil Beach but I could not forgive the absolute drivel of a plot and frankly ridiculous characterisations.
I felt no emotional connection with either Edward or Florence. Edward is made out to be an almost dribbling with desire teenage boy (he’s 23) and Florence is a bad stereotype of a frigid Victorian wife. The time of the novel felt completely wrong – this is the 1960s? I don’t have personal experience of 1960′s England, but for the first 10 pages or so I thought we were in 1920′s England instead. By the time we got to the night’s “climax” (arf arf) the whole thing just seemed ridiculous. I was so lost by that point that the further relationship “flashbacks” and denouement of the night held no interest. The last 5 pages of the book then rush through the next 40 years of the characters’ lives, ending on a sort of confused “Wish we hadn’t done that” tone.
Fortunately, it was short and only took me about an hour to get through – I’m not the world’s fastest reader, but skim-reading much of it was more than enough for me.
I like interior dialogues and character driven stories, I like superb writing that exposes the little lies we tell to ourselves and others, I like deeply moving novels exploring what it means to try (and often fail) to communicate with another person, especially if you love that person. For me, this book was none of those.
I am resigned to my fate of not being a McEwan fan.