Ian McEwan is a master of completion. By virtue of a decorative ending, he can render a very ordinary work into something memorable. His novel, or rather I should say novella, On Chesil Beach was such a work.
On Chesil beach is a story of a young couple, Edward and Florence, very much in love with each other, on their honeymoon ‘on Chesil beach’. While both of them somewhat concerned regarding their own inexperience in sexuality, their apprehension does not seem to be something out of the ordinary and things look as if eventually everything’s going to be just fine. During their somewhat clumsy attempt to initiate the love-making, the author takes us through the back story of how they met and how they grew up, depicting other characters of their family through a few swift strokes of his pen. None of those characters were unveiled to a great extent, but all we have are but a hint of their glories and afflictions and their consequence upon the honeymooners.
While in the penultimate chapter the things started to go horribly wrong: first through a few jitters, a few common mistakes followed by a heated argument and then a naïve confession on the part of Florence which took things to tumult. Edward’s male ego was hurt, as he is but a boy still to put his feet in a man’s shoes. And in the final chapter the novel concludes with an unexpected whim: a potential romantic drama ended up being a tragedy. Looking back at the things through the eyes of an aged rueful Edward, the author disseminated a sense of yearning for the day long gone, just like in his novel Atonement.
On Chesil beach, in no way, is a masterpiece. Even though it is set in the sixties England, it does not aim to be a period drama. It does not catch or even deeply look into the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of the rebellious age. Rather its characters have a sense of innocence around them almost belonging to the old world coming from a George Elliot or Jane Austen novel, still trying to come in terms with the post world war sovereignty. The glimpse that we have into the family members of Florence or Edward are not revealing enough and at times seemed almost off-hand and only intended to help the author reach a certain number of word limit. The relation hinted between Florence and her father does not provide us enough material to conjecture anything. So in a sense, the novel is rather a short story in its content and novella in its volume. Still it will be remembered, not because of its volume or its ambitions, but because of its wistful ending.