Top positive review
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Beautiful things in small packages
on 10 March 2015
It's true what they say, beautiful things do come in small packages. 'On Chesil Beach' is an exquisite little work of art of many layers. Unlike other readers, I am perfectly content with its size (easier to force on my students, they invariably grumble at the sight of large books!) Yes, the final pages do go on for a bit and seem disjointed from the rest (and scope) of the story, until the very, very end when we finally get it - and realize that every addition which seemed superfluous was in fact necessary. Although it's a heart-breaker, I will happily read it again and again.
'On Chesil Beach' does a fantastic job at transcending its time, at making a point which remains just as valid years and years later. Once we finish reading and start thinking, we realize this obviously is a sad story about lack of communication, NOT lack of sexual experience or lack of love as such. The 1960s setting, the virgin newlyweds and their tale, are here to subtly and masterfully develop an altogether different, much grander theme: the way we seem to avoid at all cost telling the truth about our own feelings, and the repercussions of such avoidance. Nothing to do with the 1960s; today we can all still relate to this, we're all still doing it in 2015 and we will be doing the same probably for generations to come - because we've been brought up in the 'stiff upper lip' tradition, or because we're afraid we'll to look foolish, or hurt the other person; or because we simply don't know how to communicate effectively. That's why, for me, 'On Chesil Beach' packs such a complex punch. It shows how easy it is to misunderstand and mis-communicate, even in the most loving of relationships (thus, by extension, it also questions the definition of love...) and how easy it is to fall into this trap even if you're otherwise very good with words, ie highly educated like the characters are. So the meanings we can extract from this book go way beyond the confines of its 1960s context and the story itself.
I won't even bother with praise for the superb structure, writing, psychological observation. Ian McEwan at his best.