On Chesil Beach

finished reading ian mcewan’s new novel “on chesil beach” last night… or rather this morning. at 4am. yes, another bout of insomnia. admittedly the novel is a short one (a reader on amazon said s/he read it in under 2 hours) -in my case it took sporadic sessions on two afternoons after work and one this morning between 2-4 am. i picked it up from that shop in dubai airport on the way back from austria. yes, i travelled to austria and while i was at it, to bratislava, slovakia -beautiful town that i will rant about in a future post. but thanks god for that bookstore in dubai airport. see, besides ingots of pure lead, books can be some of the heaviest material to carry around on air travel with your luggage. but in dubai airport you can ask for these massive cigarette shopper bags and fill them to the brim with all the novels and magazines that you have waited for weeks on end in kabul to get, and then just carry it onboard as cabin luggage -and even with that your luggage would be of modest weight and size when compared to some. so i got me some sudoku volumes and some magazines and a short story collection of murakami, and ian mcewan’s new novel and a few other titles.

but on to chesil beach -why did i pick the book if i have not read anything by ian mcewan before? well, because i watched the atonement recently and found it really good. really tragic, really smart, and great acting. keira nightly maybe one of these few weally weally pretty faces who are great actors too, and in this case, with her role as the spoiled old girl of a chateau-living prominent british aristocrat and the requisite wit in use of language and that endearing british accent, well, she is very much at home -unlike her roles with a bunch of sword brandishing pirates aboard a sinking ship fighting marine mutants. and then the tragic ending of the movie -the twist in the last five minutes when an oldened briony admits to (spoiler alert) having fabricated the last parts of her last novel and turned around the story of an unrequited love to a successful one, just as, as she puts it, “one last act of kindness” towards those she wronged. BAM. and your heart sinks and you feel stupefied and really sad, and throughout the credits all you can think of is the extraordinary fragility of cherished relationships.

so that’s why. and it helped that the book cover (vintage edition) bears mention of the fact that mr. mcewan is the bestselling author of atonement. i always wondered if those gimmicks worked -apparently they do on occasion.

the novel is a feast of sublime writing, pinpoint observations about the smallest phenomena of the human drama, unparalleled description of insecurity and longing that go with young love, and a good bit of humor, notably at the climax -pun intended. but the ending of on chesil beach leaves one equally shocked and depressed as atonement. here is a most poignant sentence from the ending paragraph – “this is how the entire course of a life can be changed – by doing nothing.” actually i want to put down the whole last paragraph here. not to spoil it for anyone -but because i found it so poignant and powerful that i want to saturate all of my literary tastebuds with its taste of pure tragedy, and rewriting it here will help me do that.

this is how the entire course of a life can be changed -by doing nothing. on chesil beach he could have called out to florence, he could have gone after her. he did not know, or would not have cared to know, that as she ran away from him, certain in her distress that she was about to lose him, she had never loved him more, or more hopelessly, and that the sound of his voice would have been a deliverance, and she would have turned back. instead, he stood in cold and righteous silence in the summer’s dusk, watching her hurry along the shore, the sound of her difficult progress lost to the breaking of small waves, until she was a blurred, receding point against the immense straight road of a shingle gleaming in the pallid light.


~ by safrang on March 24, 2008.

2 Responses to “On Chesil Beach”

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