This marks my second Ian McEwan read for the year, and I enjoyed it much more than the first. This one still covers difficult and even awkward subject matter but it makes more sense in this context than in The Cement Garden. This book was under 200 pages and I read it in one day, a great start to June!
Because of the length of the story, McEwan wastes no time in getting on with the story. This takes place in 1962, on the wedding night of Florence and Edward. The entirety of the story takes place within one day, although their are glimpses of their lives before and after their wedding. All of the story takes place within their heads, while switching perspectives. Through this, we get an intimate glimpse at each of their reservations regarding the sexual aspects of their marriage. There is a lot of buildup and tense awkwardness as they prepare to consummate their marriage. As everything falls apart, the reader learns of the disappointment and shame they both experience.
As a whole, not much really happens in this story. But at the same time, it is a pivotal moment in Florence and Edward’s relationship, one that could, ultimately, make or break them.
I really enjoyed how this seemed to have so many layers. As I read, I learned very private details about each character and their relationships with one another. How they met, how the romance blossomed and their anxieties leading up to the wedding. Florence feels rather averse to intimacy (I might even argue that she is asexual), while Edward can’t wait to get to experience sex for the first time. Their own inexperience is only magnified by the era in which they live. Edward misconstrues Florance’s distance as being chaste, and although they love each other – the subject is taboo until they are wed.
I found it so interesting how the societal world they live in binds them. Although they feel like they are free to make their own way, they are both scared to do so. They both have very opposing views about sex, which the reader knows but the newlyweds don’t know about each other. It is frustrating and really builds tension to read and see how they are having all these missed moments. Florence especially has little education of what “marital obligations” lay ahead of her. And when Edward can’t hold back in the moment, she is shocked but doesn’t know how to talk to him about it. Neither of them know how to discuss this important new part of this relationship, so rather than finding some middle ground, their marriage falls apart.
I will be keeping this book for my Ian McEwan collection, although I don’t think I’m particularly eager to reread. I just have many other books to look forward to!