I've just finished On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and I quite enjoyed it, in fact no, I really quite enjoyed it.
On reflection I think it's the plethora of in-depth reviews that have put me off. That and opening it randomly in a bookshop and catching one or two lines completely out of context and being put right off my lunch.
I hardly need to do any plot detail because it's been covered everywhere but it's 1962 and Florence and Edward settle down uncomfortably to their post-wedding meal and the first evening of their honeymoon.
" Their courtship had been a pavane, a stately unfolding, bound by protocols never agreed or voiced, but generally observed....The language and practice of therapy, the currency of feelings diligently shared, mutually analysed, were not yet in general circulation."
Enough said, ignorance is not bliss and things go hopelessly wrong and I'll say no more than that because despite reading countless reviews I was as quietly stunned as anyone else by the outcome.
It's a short novel and debate about novel versus novella and Booker eligibility seems to have quietened down in the face of a good read that easily matches previous Booker prize winners for word count.
There is however a subtle difference for me at least.
When you turn over the final and 139th page of Penelope Fitzgerald's Offshore (the winner in 1979) you feel as if you've just read a 500 page book and I don't even think it's her best one.Offshore could easily have been a much longer book but Penelope Fitzgerald always knew exactly what to leave out so that her reader has to do the work, use their imagination, work a bit harder.
Somehow when I turned the 166th page of On Chesil Beach I felt as if I'd only read 166 pages.
There was absolutely not another word Ian McEwan had to say, the subject had been turned inside out, described in meticulous detail and analysed down to the very last...well to the very last I don't know what really, but no imagination was required, all this reader's work had been done.
It's not a criticism, just a very subjective observation and I can't describe it any better than that I'm afraid.
Like The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies, On Chesil Beach yet another gentle book that masks the underlying ferment of an age on the cusp of change and here a world that was finally about to shake off the years of post-war doldrums and twist its way into the swinging sixties.Ian McEwan peppers the narrative with contemporaneous cultural details grounding it firmly in its time.
"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 embarassing condition for which marriage was the beginning of a cure."
Certainly the range of Booker longlisters this year covering a broad spectrum of twentieth century happenings.
No decision about whether it makes my shortlist yet though I'm hedging towards doubtful.
But good news, thanks to the vagaries of the rural Devon postal delivery system the replacement copy sent arrived the day after the original parcel finally turned up. I am On Chesil Beach-ed up to my eyebrows, would anyone anywhere in the whole world like the spare copy?
To make it fair, names in comments through to midnight and we'll have a mini dgr Booker prize draw later and because I love you all so much I'm going to twin it with a copy of Offshore and the winner can decide for themselves.
And as if that wasn't enough excitement for one week, there was another Booker longlist duplicate in the same parcel, so another free book prize draw tomorrow.