Monday, October 29, 2007

The Unromantic Beach Vacation

You want a good laugh? Do a youtube search for Hugh Jackman hosting the Tonys. I nearly busted a gut.

You want a painful laugh? Read Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, which was shortlisted for this year's Booker. (Quick trivia, which I put together for my class: McEwan is one of the most frequently shortlisted authors for the Booker (four times, including a win). Also, 'Booker' is a corporate sponsor's name, as is 'Man,' so the full name, the Man Booker Prize, is like the Chase Goldman Prize. Just pretty subdued names, luckily for its prestige.)

On Chesil Beach, a very short novel or long novella, is about a young couple, Edward and Florence, who get married in 1962 before the age of free love. Florence is a sensitive violinist; Edward is neither. But they are a nice young couple--so nice that they really have no idea what they are doing in bed, and Edward's eagerness collides with Florence's frigidity and nervousness to create a disastrous honeymoon night that ends their marriage.

Plausibility entirely aside, it will be entirely up to you whether you find the characters and the graphic description of their abortive intercourse cringeworthy in the good, sympathetic sense or the "oh god I can't believe the man who wrote Atonement came up with this load of crap" sense, which is the one the Times reviewer went for. Personally, I found it quite a good story until the couple split up. It's not meant to be plausible; the point is that it could have happened in that weird time period! Unfortunately, after the split, McEwan only follows Edward, giving us no insight into Florence's thoughts or feelings, when really it was much more interesting to know why she was so repulsed by sex. Edward's perfectly comprehensible, and the brevity of his trajectory afterwards doesn't allow for much elaboration of his character.

So, Florence. Was it education? something in past experience? closet lesbianism? Maybe McEwan thought he was doing an interesting thing by leaving her enigmatic, letting us decide the cause. But it really just leaves her looking a bit crazy.

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