« What I'm reading | Main | Quote »

"...happier, or less unhappy..."

I'm reading Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, and enjoying it more than I expected. It tells the story of newlyweds Florence and Edward, both virgins, on their wedding night. Here, they are lingering over dinner in their hotel rooms, anxious (him) and dreading (her) to finally have sex. As they dawdle, they listen to the faint strains of the BBC broadcast that the hotel's other patrons are listening to in the bar room below.

"We could go downstairs and listen properly."

He hoped he was being humorous, directing his sarcasm against them both, but his words emerged with surprising ferocity, and Florence blushed. She thought he was criticizing her for preferring the wireless to him, and before he could soften or lighten his remark she said hurriedly, "Or we could go and lie on the bed," and nervously swiped an invisible hair from her forehead. To demonstrate how wrong he was, she was proposing what she knew he most wanted and she dreaded. She really would have been happier, or less unhappy, to go down to the lounge and pass the time in quiet conversation with the matrons on the floral-patterned sofas while their men leaned heavily into the news, into the gale of history. Anything but this.

McEwan really manages well the difficult trick of shifting the narrative perspective back and forth between Florence and Edward, often in the same paragraph, as in the passage above. I love her imagined image of the them being the bar room (I can't help picturing Fawlty Towers), her with the matrons, him with the men, anywhere but alone together.

November 16, 2014 in Books | Permalink

Comments

"less unhappy" - story of my life

Posted by: Paul at Nov 19, 2014 4:36:51 AM

I certainly hope you're happier - not just less unhappier - than either of these two!

Posted by: Pete at Nov 21, 2014 11:30:33 AM