Wednesday, April 02, 2008

On Chesil Beach

They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it it never easy.

With this powerful statement, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan opens. And the door is never closed. It is no cheesy novel. It has been short-listed for The Man Booker prestigious prize. It struck me how talking about this young couple in England of the 1960s could be so similar to our Islamic societies today.

A girl is brought up with a certain attitude towards sex, then a magical transformation is expected to occur all of a sudden upon marriage.

Here was a boundless sensual freedom, theirs for the taking, even blessed by the vicar – with my body I thee worship.

But when that moment arrives, fear gets in the way.

She took his earlobe between forefinger and thumb and gently tugged his head towards her and whispered, ‘Actually, I’m a little bit scared.’


He said at last, ‘I think I am too.’

And it does not end up like the fairy tale marriage is made out to be. In the end there is anger and resentment.

His anger stirred her own and she suddenly thought she understood their problem: they were too polite, too constrained, too timorous, they went around each other on tiptoes, murmuring, whispering, deferring, agreeing. They barely know each other, and never could because of the blanket of companionable near-silence that smothered their differences and blinded them as much as it bound them. They had been frightened of ever disagreeing, and now his anger was setting her free.

Then comes the sober reflection after time has passed and anger subsided.

Love and patience – if only he had had them both at once – would surely have seen them both through.


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