Sunday, March 30, 2008

Secrets and Awkwardness

There is a nice symmetry in my reading at the moment. I have just finished Open Secrets by Alice Munro and am now about half-way through Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach and it occurs to me that both books deal with the quiet and awkward moments between people that are not often the subject of 'great' art.

Munro's short stories are wonderfully thought-provoking. She knows just when to end a story, finding the balance between some sort of resolution and still leaving the reader with something to think about. Her stories in this collection all revolve around interesting and often unconventional female characters, particularly women who are unconventional in their sex lives. She finds drama and poetry in the everyday. I loved her deceptively simple writing style and unique perspective on small town life, and I will be reading some more of her work very soon.

I still haven't made up my mind about On Chesil Beach. So far I'm enjoying McEwan's writing, as I have in his other novels. The situation is interesting- two young people on their wedding night in the early '60s, both of whom are sexually inexperienced and ignorant in a way that seems incredible today. My reservation at the moment is that he seems to be saving the lion's share of sexual dysfunction for the female character and somehow that seems unfair. I'll wait until I finish the book before I say any more, however.

7 comments:

Dorothy W. said...

I really enjoyed On Chesil Beach, although it was a wrenching experience -- very hard to take. But I thought McEwan did so well at getting the reader caught up in the dynamic between the two characters.

Table Talk said...

I read 'On Chesil Beach' in a very early edition before they edited out a terrible anachronism that ruined it for me. I ought to go back with a more recent edition and see if I can appreciate it better.

LK said...

I'm with you on Munro.

Sadly, haven't read any IE -- but do have On Chesil Beach, so I am looking forward to that.

jess said...

Dorothy, yes it's a hard book to take isn't it. I was wincing for the poor characters.

Table Talk, I'm really curious about what they edited out. I'm reading a new edition, although I note after a quick google search that there are lots of dodgy historical details, such as listening to the Rolling Stones before they even released an album. Not that I noticed while I was reading!

LK, I think On Chesil Beach is worth a look. I prefer his longer novels though, especially Atonement.

Sarah said...

On Chesil Beach was the first McEwan novel I've read and I was quitly impressed. I kept hoping it wouldn't end like it did though!
Unfrotunately, the next McEwan novel I read was Saturday. Its plot and its politics annoyed me so much I'm reluctant to read any more McEwan. Maybe I should try Atonement as it is so widely acclaimed.

I completely agree about Alice Munro- I've read three of her books this year and am restraining myself from reading another.

Pour of Tor said...

"Open Secrets" was one of my two great discoveries from my reading list for my Literature Oral Exams; the other was Pat Barker's "Regeneration." I wish that I had had more time to read more Barker and Munro since I took the exam.

I read "On Chesil Beach" a few months ago, and I was struck by its tremendous plausibility of the relationship's dysfunction (which seemed fairly evenly balanced by the end of the book, I thought). I thought it was wonderfully written. I look forward to hearing what you think of it by the end.

Sabine said...

Oh, what was the horrible anachronism that was originally in On Chesil Beach?