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On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan

August 6, 2007

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I guess all of us have regrets of words or deeds done or undone which we wish could be scratched from the record. We may sometimes even wonder what might have happened if we had done other that what we did.

McEwen’s books tend to revolve round a single, out of the ordinary event crashing into the ordinary lives of the subjects – like the observed plane crash in Saturday. The story then unfolds from that point, tracing how lives are reflected in and through the event.

On Chesil Beach is not the same. In it, the central event didn’t happen—a wedding night not consummated and a recovering word unspoken. Unlike previous books this central event happens towards the end of the book and the lives of Edward and Florence are changed utterly. McEwen writes:

“All she had needed was the certainty of his love, and his reassurance that there was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them. Love and patience—if only he had had them both at once—would surely have seen them through….This is how the entire course of a life can be changed—by doing nothing.”

The blend of love and patience has intrigued me, there’s something theological about it. Edward, awkward and desperate to consummate his love with his new wife lacked the awareness to recognise her need for time, so intent was he on his own fulfilment. Love itself was not enough. Love is a pursuit of sorts, that puts the capture of the object in the control of that object. Otherwise it’s just bullying. How many of us, desperate to love, have quashed or crowded the object of our passions? All from lack of patience.

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