On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan 

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • This was still the era—it would end later in that famous decade—when to be young was a social encumbrance, a mark of irrelevance, a faintly embarrassing condition for which marriage was the beginning of a cure
  • Was she obliged on the night to transform herself for Edward into a kind of portal or drawing room through which he might process?
  • She should not start what she could not sustain
  • History, properly capitalized, was driven forward by ineluctable forces toward inevitable, necessary ends, and soon the subject would be understood as a science
  • A ruthless personality, naked opportunism and luck, Edward had argued, could divert the fates of millions
  • He did not spell it out for himself, but her reticence suited his own ignorance and lack of confidence
  • it was not yet customary to regard oneself in everyday terms as an enigma, as an exercise in narrative history, or as a problem waiting to be solved
  • Anyone over forty would have fought or suffered in the war and known death on an unusual scale, and would not have been able to believe that a drift into irrelevance was the reward for all the sacrifice
  • it remained a paradox to them that so momentous a meeting should have been accidental, so dependent on a hundred minor events and choices. What a terrifying possibility, that it might never have happened at all
  • For example, she did not mind making her bed every morning—she had always done so—but she resented being asked at each breakfast whether she had.
  • Had it taken her this long to discover that she lacked some simple mental trick that everyone else had, a mechanism so ordinary that no one ever mentioned it, an immediate sensual connection to people and events, and to her own needs and desires? All these years she had lived in isolation within herself and, strangely, from herself, never wanting or daring to look back
  • For the first time, her love for Edward was associated with a definable physical sensation, as irrefutable as vertigo
  • She had to know he was with her, on her side, and was not going to use her, that he was her friend and was kindly and tender. Otherwise it could all go wrong, in a very lonely way
  • The feel of it crawling across her skin in thick rivulets, its alien milkiness, its intimate starchy odor, which dragged with it the stench of a shameful secret locked in musty confinement—she could not help herself, she had to be rid of it
  • His trousers felt heavy and ridiculous in his hand, these parallel tubes of cloth joined at one end, an arbitrary fashion of recent centuries
  • He was aided in his surrender by the clarity that comes with a sudden absence of desire
  • We can never just be. We can never just be happy. There’s this constant pressure. There’s always something more that you want out of me. This endless wheedling
  • Whatever new frontier she crossed, there was always another waiting for her. Every concession she made increased the demand, and then the disappointment
  • Even in their happiest moments, there was always the accusing shadow, the barely hidden gloom of his unfulfillment, looming like an alp, a form of perpetual sorrow which had been accepted by them both as her responsibility
  • She tore through her sentences, as though speed alone would generate sense, as though she could propel him too past contradictions, swing him so fast along the curve of her intention that there could be no objection he could grasp at
  • Occasionally, he would come to a forking of the paths deep in a beech wood and idly think that this was where she must have paused to consult her map that morning in August, and he would imagine her vividly, only a few feet and forty years away, intent on finding him
  • Love and patience—if only he had had them both at once—would surely have seen them both through

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