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From My Bookshelf: On Chesil Beach

This weekend I read Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. And its final paragraph has really stayed with me.

Because as I was reading the somber anniversary of 9/11, which, for me, always prompts a lot of thinking, was approaching? Because the Jewish Holy Days (which tend to also inspire a fair amount of reflection, on life and on death) begin this week? I don’t know.

But since I’ve already written about how challenging I find crafting endings myself, I thought I’d share with you one that has really impressed me. (If you’re still waiting to read the book, consider yourself alerted to a potential spoiler.)

As always, I think it’s very difficult to explicate (or appreciate) an ending without reading what has preceded it. But I hope something here may seem resonant to some of you, as well. Today, especially.

When he thought of her, it rather amazed him, that he had let that girl with her violin go. Now, of course, he saw that her self-effacing proposal was quite irrelevant. All she had needed was the certainty of his love, and his reassurance that there was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them. Love and patience–if only he had had them both at once–would surely have seen them both through. And then what unborn children might have had their chances, what young girl with a headband might have become his loved familiar? This is how the entire course of a life can be changed–by doing nothing. On Chesil Beach he could have called out to Florence, he could have gone after her. He did not know, or would not have cared to know, that as she ran away from him, certain in her distress that she was about to lose him, she had never loved him more, or more hopelessly, and that the sound of his voice would have been a deliverance, and she would have turned back. Instead, he stood in cold and righteous silence in the summer’s dusk, watching her hurry along the shore, the sound of her difficult progress lost to the breaking of small waves, until she was a blurred, receding point against the immense straight road of shingle gleaming in the pallid light.

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