Monday, August 08, 2011

On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan

Since we went on holiday to Weymouth and went to see Chesil beach I thought I'd have to bring this and read it there.

I really liked the way this book was structured. It tells the story of only a few hours in the life of two people, but telescopes into that how they came to that point, and then where their lives go afterwards. There's no doubt it's brilliantly written. Whether it works ultimately depends on whether you can believe that the somewhat extreme scenario it describes is actually convincing given the characters and where they've come from. I guess it is when you're reading it, but whether it still works on reflection I'm not sure.

One particular thing that I'm still puzzling about in my mind is the setting of the final scene, on Chesil Beach itself. Having actually sat on the "infinite shingle" of Chesil Beach myself, there was something incredibly peaceful and timeless about its "infinite shingle", but at the same time it's a place of amazing solitude, even in the presence of other people. Does that make the book's conclusion more or less likely? I'm not sure.

The ending of the book was sad, but not somehow depressing. One thing that's brought out throughout the book is that a wonderful happy ending is only a hair's breadth away - as if in some infinite universe of possibilities, all the other universes might have seen a different conclusion. Somehow that's a lot less depressing than feeling that the unhappy ending was inevitable. I particularly felt seeds of hope, of what might otherwise have been, in the last few pages, where the book zooms out and shows the two characters making their way through the rest of their lives - a great touch.

I had reservations when I heard about this book that it might be trying to argue against the viewpoint of keeping sex for marriage. I don't think it does - or if it does, it's not very successful. If anything it's about communication - the clue, I suppose, is in the book's first two sentences. And communication is always a good thing.

The Red And The Black - Stendahl

Dad recommended I read this (on my new Kindle! whoohoo!) It has some interesting observations about the nature of France back in 1830 and in particular the nature of the catholic church there and then. What struck me particularly was the relationship between the main character and the younger woman later in the book - society may have changed since but people don't really change.

Generation X - Douglas Coupland

I've read a few books recently and I'm getting behind on commenting on them, don't know what to say ... Quite liked this, it's not a story per se but it was quite perceptive in its day about young people of the time (my time!) The comment about the end of history is somewhat undermined by the fact that the Berlin Wall came down between the book being written or at least set, and being published. But the stuff about being the generation after the last generation to be able to buy a house (much less retire with a decent pension) is still pretty perceptive.