ON CHESIL BEACH Ian McEwan
On Chesil beach in Dorset, the sea and wind grade pebbles according to size, smaller yielding to larger. It is this that Ian McEwan’s elegantly-fashioned new novel mirrors, dealing with large consequences of small actions.
It is 1962: a time of Harold Macmillan and disintegrating Empire. Vietnam protests, flower power and bra-burning are still a while away. One July day in this repressive age, newlyweds Edward and Florence, virgins in their early twenties, arrive at an inn on the beach to consummate their marriage. The night will be decisive, marked by Edward’s fear of failure and Florence’s diffident inexperience.
In precise, understated prose, McEwan portrays the restless, self-righteous Edward and the affectionate, straitlaced Florence. His explorations of the workings of their consciousness, especially during their final encounter, are delicate and impressive. In spirit, if not in style, the ending is reminiscent of Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day: “This is how the entire course of a life can be changed – by doing nothing”.
Worth your while? Yes – if only to realise what the banning of sex education across states in India can do to an entire generation.