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Thursday, October 2, 2008

On Chesil Beach Discussion

Ok, De is champing at the bit and going to ruin her teeth if I don't do something right away. Hee hee. I was going to try to get to this by afternoon but I'm going to get this going right now so I can hear what you guys have to say.

I don't have prepared questions. I'm going to share my thoughts, I encourage you to do the same and I'd like to get a good dialog going on those lines. Men, any of you who read this please chime in. There are several of us women anticipating getting the male point of view on this one.

Overall I loved this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the language and skill of this author. I found myself believing things about his characters and then as more information was revealed, my views changed. For a small novella taking place in the course of one night and about a year's worth of memories, this was gripping and sad and lovely all at the same time.

It was interesting that for different reasons, the main issue between these two young people was a reluctance to speak about their problems or to allow themselves to be angry, until it is too late. Given the era they lived in, from what I know, speaking about sex even in the context of marriage was not done. Even daughters and mothers talking about things before an impending marriage often only spoke the night before the wedding and the information was sketchy at best. At least for the generations of women in my family that is the case.

But a more subtle interesting problem I think was the conflict Florence felt between her love and her inability to feel comfortable with intimacy. Which proves just the opposite problem for Edward, whose impatience for intimacy seems intertwined with love and he simply cannot understand that Florence does love him in spite of her lack of desire. I was wondering (here is where you men can help me out specifically) if this is typical thinking for young men. That love and love-making are two inseparable things. If a woman loves a man, she would show it with intimacy. I thought this was interesting since many women equate love and sex in completely the opposite way - if he has had sex with me, he must love me.

In the end, I suppose that immaturity got in either newlyweds way, otherwise they might have tried harder to resolve the problem. Of course, for each of them, with ideals about marriage in that time-period, perhaps the problems seemed completely insurmountable.

Your turn.

9 comments:

Sober Briquette said...

In response to you, Maggie, I felt McEwan handled the definition of "love" in a confusing, contradictory way. Edward and Florence are described as having a reasonably intimate relationship, enough so that I believed their "love" was genuine. But the other examples of love we are given are suspect, for example, within the families. In the Mayhew family, we have the flusterings of the mad mother which "almost felt like love." Then there is the passage in which Florence describes her home life (p 63), saying she "loves" each of them in turn, but really she can't stand them or being there. Later, when Edward becomes part of the household, he is "walking around her house with a constant erection," (p148) but his love was as much for the trappings of life at the Pontings, the complete dissimilarity to his own home as it was for Florence.

Coming away from this novel, I am Edward and Ian McEwan is Florence. I fell in love and he failed to consummate it.

How could I not love his writing? How could I not fall for that well-honed ability to capture his character’s thoughts and feelings so adeptly that I know them, not as others, but by memory of my own consciousness?

I could cite lines and entire passages that impressed me, moved me, resound in me still, but I have lost my desire to build him up. The longer I think about it, the more betrayed I feel.

Leaving Geoffrey Ponting’s incest a tacit subject emphasizes the connivance of the act, but it feels like a plot device in a novel that was otherwise innocent. Or is that just another intentional layer of the device? I began to wrestle with McEwan, he the storyteller, the creator, and I, the realist and the outraged woman, but this kind of fight can only ever end in a draw.

Unlike Edward, I don’t think I will be able to shun my swain. I must read his other books.

meno said...

Gee, you guys are so articulate.

I could barely stand to read this book. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. A beautifully written train wreck to be sure, but one that i could see coming (heh) a long way away.

Ignorance + repression = disaster.

I also had this flash, about a third of the way through the book, when Florence was thinking about her utter disgust of anything physical, that Florence was/is a lesbian.

I mean, a guy you adored, had been with for a year, and you felt no physical attraction to him? Speaking for myself, i just don't understand that.

Having said all that, the writing about their final confrontation, the escalation that neither of them wanted, but felt compelled to do, was so real it hurt.

So, yeah, i think i'll stick to trashy mystery novels. Less emotion for me. I'm either really sensitive or a complete oaf.

Maggie said...

De, I understand your points but I think that if we were to consider any number of families, marriages and people in general, we'd find a new definition of love within each relationship. Even within families. I think McEwan emphasizes this to a tea. The interesting thing is that, yes some things are wrong. Like Florence not being able to stand her family. Yet she loves them. Myself, given the secret she held, trying to get along in life without ever being able to reveal that to anyone, watching her sister receive easy affection from her father while she 'lived in disgrace' must have strongly affected her feelings towards each of those members of her immediate family. But it does not necessarily erase the love that a daughter or sister feels.
Yes I agree about the incest. It did feel snuck in, underhanded in a novel which wreaked of innocence. And yet, it highlights with blaring beams how 'innocence' is deceptive and anger can poison everything.
I did find myself liking Edward less for his definitions of love. The fact that he fell in love with material things that seemed intrinsically linked to his love for Florence. And that passion was his 'happiness'. That he was so wrapped up in having sex that he lost track of what the real love between them was. Florence seemed to have a clearer sense of that. But then, there was so much that Edward didn't know.
In the end of the book, Edward becomes more human, understandable as his maturity reveals that he is a more understanding person.

Sober Briquette said...

I wondered about the lesbian possibility, too, but never saw anymore sign posts in that direction.

I felt that Edward's sexual desires were entirely normal. In fact, toward the end, after the confrontation, (p 163) when he's thinking back over their courtship, he thinks, "other men would have demanded more," and I thought, Hells yes! Edward. Why didn't you? Is the answer that oh-so-suffocating, impotent atmosphere of protocols and permissions built up in Part One? I don't know. I can't quote facts and figures, but I'm pretty sure there was premarital sex before the '60s.

Or maybe I'm just an oversexxxed woman of loose morals.

Maggie said...

I don't think Edward's sexual desire is abnormal or wrong. I just thought the way it clouded everything, hung over his expectations was obsessive. But then, I may be being naive here. Men do have strong sexual desire and after all they were married. This was the culmination of that act of formally sealing their connection. But, perhaps I understand Florence too well. Not that I'm a survivor of incest mind you, but the sexual intimacies of my life have not always come easily for me. The desire to be open with a partner yet feeling hesitant, knowing that it could alter the relationship in ways you don't want it to, were all too familiar for me.
I did wonder on the lesbian score, but only fleetingly when McEwan, never explicitly, but between the lines indicated that Florence never engaged in another relationship after Edward. I didn't feel there was enough evidence for that and quickly left it behind.

ms chica said...

It's hard for me to read any book without attempting to tie it an experience, personal or vicarious, that can relate to. Consequently, I tend to complete many stories missing the point as the author intended to convey it. Reading becomes an interactive experience rather than observational.

With this book I kept dwelling on what my sevety-year-old Grandmother conveyed to my teenage sister. "One day when you marry, your husband is going to ask you to do things on your wedding night, and you won't like them very much." The thought that my grandmother felt that way in her seventies saddened me, as she missed out on so many things. Not to imply physical expressions of love trump emotional ones, but simply shouldn't both sexes have it all. Ironically, if she was aware of the things I hadn't missed on, she would insist I was going to Hell.

I enjoyed McEwan's writing style, particularly the descriptions. He acted as a stenographer of the character's feelings without simultaneously judging them, I assume leaving that task for the readers. Being a child of the seventies, it was difficult for me to embrace more conservative sexual morals, but not impossible to relate. It isn't often I read a book, knowing the entire plot before opening the cover, yet it pulled me in, and kept me engaged.

Florence's attitude toward the physical aspect of the relationship were easy to grasp due to my own grandmother's own, uh, sage advice?, no uh, attitude. Page 109 led me to consider had Edward been been more patient and observant on their their wedding night, he might have consummated ("She was half pretending that nothing was happening —that his hand was not under her dress, his thumb was not pushing an outlying pubic hair back and forth, and she was not making a momentous discovery.").

I can't speak on behalf of the male populace, but I will relay what my own mate has said on behalf of young men and sexual attitudes. Sex is a paradox. It is both a recreational activity with no strings attached, and the ultimate way to show your partner you love them. With inconsistencies like that, how's a girl not supposed to be confused?

Mona Buonanotte said...

The writing style of the author kept getting in my way. It wasn't until page, oh, 72 or so that there was real dialogue. I hadn't realized it until this book, but if I'm reading a work of fiction, I want the characters to SPEAK...to each other, to themselves. And there wasn't that.

Then it dawned on me...if the characters in this book weren't speaking to me, was this the author's subtle way of introducing the fact that Florence and Edward didn't really speak to each other? Especially about intimacies? Granted, their relationship occurred in a much more repressive time, and I equated their courtship with that of my parents (who, as much as I can tell, still don't speak to each other as much as snipe at each other).

The author's prose was beautiful and descriptive. It painted a detailed picture in my mind. But all the while I thought, this can't end well. I felt some measure of sympathy, or empathy, for both characters, possibly because I could see aspects of myself in each.

Poor horny Edward...poor numb Florence. They should have been BFFs and nothing more, although would their society at that time allow for it?

Clowncar said...

Sorry to be so late to the party - out of town most of the week.

Along with Maggie (and no one else), I really enjoyed this book. I thought there was a lot of humor in it, and at times their sexual wrangling seemed more like a comedy of manners than anything particularly deep. I assume it was intentional humor.

I also liked the idea that their entire lives - particularly their family lives - had been brought to the moment the book describes, and how much time and emphasis McEwan gives it. I thought the implied incest was central; she wasn't a lesbian, just unable to form her own independent sexuality becaue of her childhood.

I liked the stuff about the elaborate fiction created for his mother.

I liked the descriptions of her passion for music, and how he tries and just doesn't get it.

I thought the ending was just brutal, and very moving. That more than anything else is why I thought it was a successful book.

Plus that writing style is just gorgeous, and seemingly effortless.

Clowncar said...

If I could add one more thing - I reread everyone's comments last night and just wanted to say I really connected with ms. chica's observation about her reading is an "interactive experience rather than observational," and how what she gets from a book isn't always what the author intends. What a good observation - I am much the same way. Sometimes I feel like the book I read is entirely different from the book read by the rest of the world, because my reaction is so different. It's a nice way to read. Makes each book so personal - almost as if every book is written especially for you.

I'm much the same way with music.

Anyway. Just wanted to throw that into the mix.