It is rare that I read a book and consider it amazing before putting on my critical hat and justifying why. But, On Chesil Beach was just that, it was immediately amazing. The way in which McEwan crafts language, the way that he is able to create distinct voices surely contributed to my amazement. However, what really made this novel amazing was what it physically and emotionally did to me. For four hours I was sat in the middle of my parents’ bed sobbing into the sleeves of my jumper, this book made me do something I rarely indulge in. McEwan made me reflective about how I consider the consequences of my own life choices and how exactly I make them, or don’t. In On Chesil Beach decisions made by characters of a similar age to my own have utterly devastating consequences on the course of their adult life, Florence’s decision to conceal her fear of intimacy leaves Edward with a failed marriage that haunts and torments him throughout his life, subjecting him to a debilitating loneliness; it’s terrifying. We are permitted my McEwan to do a fearsome type of pondering and consider ‘what if’s’ more than I believe anyone in the early stage of life would comfortably do. I finished the book feeling helpless, devastated, and grateful to McEwan for teaching me the value there is to be had in being honest to the ones we love, for I admit, emotional honesty is something fearsome when you’re a “young innocent” as it obviously (and more extremely) is in Florence’s case.
Another aspect of this novel I found amazing was the amazing and surprising dislike I felt towards Florence. I wanted to find some area of sympathy, but her inability to conquer her fear of intimacy when given the opportunity was translated to me as exaggerated, and plainly ridiculous; Especially considering her husbands’ obvious adoration for her and her body, and his unusual patience throughout their engagement. Throughout her relationship with Edward she consistently failed him, failed to honor him with honesty, failed to reciprocate his affection and he was completely blind to her failure because he was so infatuated. She was a young woman with the complete devotion of a man that she didn’t truly want but and whether naivety or selfishness was to blame she kept it anyhow.
“She could not love the way men and women loved”
So perhaps I’m being harsh, perhaps Florence genuinely couldn’t make herself capable of love and this means she maybe deserves to be parenthesized as a victim. I suppose the fact that I simply failed and still fail to find any empathy for Florence the way that I do for Edward is the reason for my incredible emotional involvement in this novel. I’m always weary not to get too emotionally involved in a piece of writing for fear that I won’t be able to analyze it and criticize it with an objective, clear, rational mind. I suppose the amazing thing about this novel was its ability to remove my academic hat and replace it with a purely emotional one. The most amazing aspect however, was its resonance in my consciousness, for I genuinely believe that it has opened a peephole into a layer of awareness I previously didn’t care to look through.
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