On Chesil Beach

The bride was not hurried in her movements—this was yet another of those delaying tactics that also committed her further. She was aware of her husband’s enchanted gaze, but for the moment she did not feel quite so agitated or pressured. Entering the bedroom, she had plunged into an uncomfortable, dreamlike condition that encumbered her like an old-fashioned diving suit in deep water. Her thoughts did not seem her own—they were piped down to her, thoughts instead of oxygen.

And in this condition she had been aware of a stately, simple musical phrase, playing and repeating itself, the shadowy ungraspable way of auditory memory, following her to the bedside, where it played again as she took a shoe in each hand. The familiar phrase—some might even have called it famous—consisted of four rising notes, which appeared to be posing a tentative question. Because the instrument was a cello rather than her violin, the interrogator was not herself but a detached observer, mildly incredulous, but insistent too, for after a brief silence and a lingering, unconvincing reply from the other instruments, the cello put the question again, in different terms, on a different chord, and then again, and again, and each time received a doubtful answer. There was no set of words she could match to these notes; it was not as if something were being said. The inquiry was without content, as pure as a question mark.

Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach