On Chesil Beach

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The #1 bestselling author of Saturday and Atonement brilliantly illuminates the collision of sexual longing, deep-seated fears and romantic fantasy in his unforgettable, emotionally engaging new novel.

The year is 1962. Florence, the daughter of a successful businessman and an aloof Oxford academic, is a talented violinist. She dreams of a career on the concert stage and of the perfect life she will create with Edward, the earnest young history student she met by chance and who ...

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2007-06-05 Hardcover New It is July 1962. Florence is a talented musician who dreams of a career on the concert stage and of the perfect life she will create with Edward, an ... earnest young history student at University College of London, who unexpectedly wooed and won her heart. Newly married that morning, both virgins, Edward and Florence arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their worries about the wedding night to come. Edward, eager for rapture, frets over Florence's response to his advances and nurses a private fear of failure, while Florence's anxieties run deeper: she is overcome by sheer disgust at the idea of physical contact, but dreads disappointing her husband when they finally lie down together in the honeymoon suite. Read more Show Less

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Overview

The #1 bestselling author of Saturday and Atonement brilliantly illuminates the collision of sexual longing, deep-seated fears and romantic fantasy in his unforgettable, emotionally engaging new novel.

The year is 1962. Florence, the daughter of a successful businessman and an aloof Oxford academic, is a talented violinist. She dreams of a career on the concert stage and of the perfect life she will create with Edward, the earnest young history student she met by chance and who unexpectedly wooed her and won her heart. Edward grew up in the country on the outskirts of Oxford where his father, the headmaster of the local school, struggled to keep the household together and his mother, brain-damaged from an accident, drifted in a world of her own. Edward’s native intelligence, coupled with a longing to experience the excitement and intellectual fervour of the city, had taken him to University College in London. Falling in love with the accomplished, shy and sensitive Florence – and having his affections returned with equal intensity – has utterly changed his life.

Their marriage, they believe, will bring them happiness, the confidence and the freedom to fulfill their true destinies. The glowing promise of the future, however, cannot totally mask their worries about the wedding night. Edward, who has had little experience with women, frets about his sexual prowess. Florence’s anxieties run deeper: she is overcome by conflicting emotions and a fear of the moment she will surrender herself.

From the precise and intimate depiction of two young lovers eager to rise above the hurts and confusion of the past, to the touching story of how their unexpressed misunderstandings and fears shape the rest of their lives, On Chesil Beach is an extraordinary novel that brilliantly, movingly shows us how the entire course of a life can be changed – by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Ian McEwan's emotionally charged novel follows an inexperienced young couple through their disastrous wedding night at a Dorset hotel in 1962. Very much in love, Edward and Florence are predictably nervous, but for different reasons. He longs to consummate the marriage; she is repelled by the very idea. Locked in their inhibitions and utterly unable to discuss their fears and needs, they are victims not only of personal experience but of a distinctively British brand of repression destined to crumble in the sexual revolution. One of McEwan's greatest skills is his ability to limn the precise, irrevocable moment in which life changes forever. And although that moment is telegraphed within the first few pages of this rueful tale, it loses none of its tragic, devastating force when it occurs. Brief and elegiac, On Chesil Beach spotlights the talents of a literary grand master at the top of his game.
Jonathan Lethem
The bulk of On Chesil Beach consists of a single sex scene, one played, because of the novel’s brevity and accessibility, in something like “real time.” Edward and Florence have retreated, on their wedding night, to a hotel suite overlooking Chesil Beach. Edward wants sex, Florence is sure she doesn’t. The situation is miniature and enormous, dire and pathetic, tender and irrevocable. McEwan treats it with a boundless sympathy, one that enlists the reader even as it disguises the fact that this seeming novel of manners is as fundamentally a horror novel as any McEwan’s written, one that carries with it a David Cronenberg sensitivity to what McEwan calls “the secret affair between disgust and joy.”
— The New York Times
Jonathan Yardley
This breathtaking novel, Ian McEwan's 11th, tells the story of that night. Like a number of his previous books -- among them The Cement Garden, The Comfort of Strangers, Black Dogs and Amsterdam-- On Chesil Beach is more a novella than a novel, weighing in at around 40,000 words, but like those other books it is in no important sense a miniature. Instead, it takes on subjects of universal interest -- innocence and naiveté, self-delusion, desire and repression, opportunity lost or rejected -- and creates a small but complete universe around them. McEwan's prose is as masterly as ever, here striking a remarkably subtle balance between detachment and sympathy, dry wit and deep compassion. It reaffirms my conviction that no one now writing in English surpasses or even matches McEwan's accomplishment.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

It should not come as a surprise that Florence and Edward, newlyweds who cannot discuss their previous sexual experiences (or lack thereof), do not communicate out loud with one another until all their emotions boil over at the conclusion of the first night of their honeymoon. That their lives are constructed as narratives and memories makes this novella a particularly good choice for McEwan to perform his own work. McEwan provides a deft sense of cadence, timing and emphasis. McEwan reads this poignant, sad and occasionally amusing gem with entrancing skill, precision and perfect pace. In short, McEwan's performance is mesmerizing. An excellent addition to the recording is a thoughtful interview with the author. The conversation provides insight into McEwan's choice of setting, time period (1962) and characters. McEwan reveals that he tries out his works in progress on audiences, a technique that pays off beautifully. This author-read work is outstanding. Simultaneous release with the Nan A. Talese hardcover (Reviews, March 6). (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Shy musician Florence and her fianc , earnest Edward, look forward to married life, but a momentary misunderstanding on their wedding night changes everything. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
Praise for Saturday:

“Ian McEwan proves again that there may be no novelist in English better able to sustain the classical virtues of balance and clarity.”
The Globe and Mail

“Finely wrought and shimmering with intelligence.”
The New York Times Book Review

“In Saturday, the marvelously gifted Ian McEwan turns a single day into nearly twenty-four hours emblematic of an entire era.”
Chicago Tribune

“Saturday is thoughtful, finely written, rich in detail and analysis, a portrait of a living mind.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“[McEwan] remains at the top of his game–assured, accomplished and ambitious. . . . [Saturday] offers something transcendent, impossible to dissect.”
The Daily Telegraph

“It’s the good writing and the truthful and convincing way of rendering consciousness that makes Ian McEwan’s Saturday so engrossing, keeping me awake like a mystery thriller.”
—Colm Tóibín, The Sunday Times

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385522403
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/5/2007
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 4.95 (w) x 7.61 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan is the acclaimed author of more than ten books, including the novels Saturday, Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the W. H. Smith Literary Award, The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award, as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He lives in London.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

One of the most distinguished novelists of his generation, Ian McEwan was born in England and spent much of his childhood traveling with his father, an army officer stationed in the Far East, Germany, and North Africa. He graduated from Sussex University in 1970 with a degree in English Literature and received his MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.

McEwan burst upon the literary scene in the mid-1970s with two short story collections that highlighted with equal clarity his early predilection for disturbing, somewhat shocking subject matter and his dazzling prose style. Similarly, his 1978 debut novel, The Cement Garden, attracted as much attention for its unsettling storyline as for its stylistic brilliance. But even though his early work was saturated with deviant sex, violence, and death (so much so that he earned the nickname "Ian MacAbre"), he was never dismissed as a mere purveyor of cheap thrills. In fact, two of his most provocative works (The Comfort of Strangers and Enduring Love) were shortlisted for major U.K. awards.

As he has matured, McEwan has moved away from disquieting themes like incest, sadism, and psychotic obsession to explore more introspective human dramas. In an interview with The New Republic he described his literary evolution in this way:

"One passes the usual milestones in life: You have children, you find that whether you like it or not, you have a huge investment in the human project somehow succeeding. You become maybe a little more tolerant as you get older. Pessimism begins to feel something like a badge that you perhaps do not wear so easily. There is something delicious and reckless about the pessimism of being 21. And when you get older you feel maybe a little more delicate and hope that things will flourish. You don't want to take a stick to it."
Among many literary honors, McEwan has been awarded the Somerset Maugham Award for First Love, Last Rites (1976) and the Whitbread Prize for The Child in Time (1987). Nominated three times for the Booker Prize, he finally won in 1998 for Amsterdam. He has also received the WH Smith Literary Award and National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award for Atonement (2001) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Saturday (2005).

Good To Know

While developing the Harry Perowne, the neurosurgeon in Saturday, McEwan actually spent a year observing a neurosurgeon at work, which included time spent in the operating theater.

Although he is known principally for his novels, McEwan has also brought his vision to the screen as writer of the films The Ploughman's Lunch (1983) and Soursweet (1988).

Hollywood loves McEwan. Film adaptions of his novels include The Cement Garden, The Comfort of Strangers, The Innocent, Enduring Love, and Atonement.

McEwan is no stranger to controversy. In 1999, his first wife kidnapped their 13-year-old son.The child was returned and McEwan awarded sole custody. His ex-wife was fined for "defamation" of McEwan's name.

In 2002, Ian McEwan discovered that he had a brother born from an affair between McEwan's parents that occurred before their marriage and given up for adoption during WWII. Since their relationship has come to light, McEwan and his brother have met frequently and forged a friendship.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Ian Russell McEwan
    2. Hometown:
      Oxford, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 21, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Aldershot, England
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Sussex, 1970; M.A., University of East Anglia, 1971
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

On Chesil Beach


By Ian McEwan

Random House Large Print

Copyright © 2007 Ian McEwan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780739327265

ONE

They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy. They had just sat down to supper in a tiny sitting room on the first floor of a Georgian inn. In the next room, visible through the open door, was a four–poster bed, rather narrow, whose bedcover was pure white and stretched startlingly smooth, as though by no human hand. Edward did not mention that he had never stayed in a hotel before, whereas Florence, after many trips as a child with her father, was an old hand. Superficially, they were in fine spirits. Their wedding, at St. Mary’s, Oxford, had gone well; the service was decorous, the reception jolly, the send–off from school and college friends raucous and uplifting. Her parents had not condescended to his, as they had feared, and his mother had not significantly misbehaved, or completely forgotten the purpose of the occasion. The couple had driven away in a small car belonging to Florence’s mother and arrived in the early evening at their hotel on the Dorset coast in weather that was not perfect for mid–July or the circumstances, but entirely adequate: it was not raining, but nor was it quite warm enough, according to Florence, to eat outside on the terrace as they had hoped. Edward thought it was, but, polite to a fault, hewould not think of contradicting her on such an evening.

So they were eating in their rooms before the partially open French windows that gave onto a balcony and a view of a portion of the English Channel, and Chesil Beach with its infinite shingle. Two youths in dinner jackets served them from a trolley parked outside in the corridor, and their comings and goings through what was generally known as the honeymoon suite made the waxed oak boards squeak comically against the silence. Proud and protective, the young man watched closely for any gesture or expression that might have seemed satirical. He could not have tolerated any sniggering. But these lads from a nearby village went about their business with bowed backs and closed faces, and their manner was tentative, their hands shook as they set items down on the starched linen tablecloth. They were nervous too.

This was not a good moment in the history of English cuisine, but no one much minded at the time, except visitors from abroad. The formal meal began, as so many did then, with a slice of melon decorated by a single glazed cherry. Out in the corridor, in silver dishes on candle–heated plate warmers, waited slices of long–ago roasted beef in a thickened gravy, soft boiled vegetables, and potatoes of a bluish hue. The wine was from France, though no particular region was mentioned on the label, which was embellished with a solitary darting swallow. It would not have crossed Edward’s mind to have ordered a red.

Desperate for the waiters to leave, he and Florence turned in their chairs to consider the view of a broad mossy lawn, and beyond, a tangle of flowering shrubs and trees clinging to a steep bank that descended to a lane that led to the beach. They could see the beginnings of a footpath, dropping by muddy steps, a way lined by weeds of extravagant size—giant rhubarb and cabbages they looked like, with swollen stalks more than six feet tall, bending under the weight of dark, thick–veined leaves. The garden vegetation rose up, sensuous and tropical in its profusion, an effect heightened by the gray, soft light and a delicate mist drifting in from the sea, whose steady motion of advance and withdrawal made sounds of gentle thunder, then sudden hissing against the pebbles. Their plan was to change into rough shoes after supper and walk on the shingle between the sea and the lagoon known as the fleet, and if they had not finished the wine, they would take that along, and swig from the bottle like gentlemen of the road.

And they had so many plans, giddy plans, heaped up before them in the misty future, as richly tangled as the summer flora of the Dorset coast, and as beautiful. Where and how they would live, who their close friends would be, his job with her father’s firm, her musical career and what to do with the money her father had given her, and how they would not be like other people, at least, not inwardly. 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. Almost strangers, they stood, strangely together, on a new pinnacle of existence, gleeful that their new status promised to promote them out of their endless youth—Edward and Florence, free at last! One of their favorite topics was their childhoods, not so much the pleasures as the fog of comical misconceptions from which they had emerged, and the various parental errors and outdated practices they could now forgive.

From these new heights they could see clearly, but they could not describe to each other certain contradictory feelings: they separately worried about the moment, sometime soon after dinner, when their new maturity would be tested, when they would lie down together on the four–poster bed and reveal themselves fully to each other. For over a year, Edward had been mesmerized by the prospect that on the evening of a given date in July the most sensitive portion of himself would reside, however briefly, within a naturally formed cavity inside this cheerful, pretty, formidably intelligent woman. How this was to be achieved without absurdity, or disappointment, troubled him. His specific worry, based on one unfortunate experience, was of overexcitement, of what he had heard someone describe as “arriving too soon.” The matter was rarely out of his thoughts, but though his fear of failure was great, his eagerness—for rapture, for resolution—was far greater.

Florence’s anxieties were more serious, and there were moments during the journey from Oxford when she thought she was about to draw on all her courage to speak her mind. But what troubled her was unutterable, and she could barely frame it for herself. Where he merely suffered conventional first-night nerves, she experienced a visceral dread, a helpless disgust as palpable as seasickness. For much of the time, through all the months of merry wedding preparation, she managed to ignore this stain on her happiness, but whenever her thoughts turned toward a close embrace—she preferred no other term—her stomach tightened dryly, she was nauseous at the back of her throat. In a modern, forward–looking handbook that was supposed to be helpful to young brides, with its cheery tones and exclamation marks and numbered illustrations, she came across certain phrases or words that almost made her gag: mucous membrane, and the sinister and glistening glans. Other phrases offended her intelligence, particularly those concerning entrances: Not long before he enters her…or, now at last he enters her, and, happily, soon after he has entered her…Was she obliged on the night to transform herself for Edward into a kind of portal or drawing room through which he might process? Almost as frequent was a word that suggested to her nothing but pain, flesh parted before a knife: penetration.

In optimistic moments she tried to convince herself that she suffered no more than a heightened form of squeamishness, which was bound to pass. Certainly, the thought of Edward's testicles, pendulous below his engorged penis—another horrifying term—had the potency to make her upper lip curl, and the idea of herself being touched “down there” by someone else, even someone she loved, was as repulsive as, say, a surgical procedure on her eye. But her squeamishness did not extend to babies. She liked them; she had looked after her cousin’'s little boys on occasion and enjoyed herself. She thought she would love being pregnant by Edward, and in the abstract, at least, she had no fears about childbirth. If only she could, like the mother of Jesus, arrive at that swollen state by magic.

Florence suspected that there was something profoundly wrong with her, that she had always been different, and that at last she was about to be exposed. Her problem, she thought, was greater, deeper, than straightforward physical disgust; her whole being was in revolt against a prospect of entanglement and flesh; her composure and essential happiness were about to be violated. She simply did not want to be “entered” or “penetrated.” Sex with Edward could not be the summation of her joy, but was the price she must pay for it.

She knew she should have spoken up long ago, as soon as he proposed, long before the visit to the sincere and soft–voiced vicar, and dinners with their respective parents, before the wedding guests were invited, the gift list devised and lodged with a department store, and the marquee and photographer hired, and all the other irreversible arrangements. But what could she have said, what possible terms could she have used when she could not have named the matter to herself? And she loved Edward, not with the hot, moist passion she had read about, but warmly, deeply, sometimes like a daughter, sometimes almost maternally. She loved cuddling him, and having his enormous arm around her shoulders, and being kissed by him, though she disliked his tongue in her mouth and had wordlessly made this clear. She thought he was original, unlike anyone she had ever met. He always had a paperback book, usually history, in his jacket pocket in case he found himself in a queue or a waiting room. He marked what he read with a pencil stub. He was virtually the only man Florence had met who did not smoke. None of his socks matched. He had only one tie, narrow, knitted, dark blue, which he wore nearly all the time with a white shirt. She adored his curious mind, his mild country accent, the huge strength in his hands, the unpredictable swerves and drifts of his conversation, his kindness to her, and the way his soft brown eyes, resting on her when she spoke, made her feel enveloped in a friendly cloud of love. At the age of twenty–two, she had no doubt that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Edward Mayhew. How could she have dared risk losing him?

There was no one she could have talked to. Ruth, her sister, was too young, and her mother, perfectly wonderful in her way, was too intellectual, too brittle, an old–fashioned bluestocking. Whenever she confronted an intimate problem, she tended to adopt the public manner of the lecture hall, and use longer and longer words, and make references to books she thought everyone should have read. Only when the matter was safely bundled up in this way might she sometimes relax into kindliness, though that was rare, and even then you had no idea what advice you were receiving. Florence had some terrific friends from school and music college who posed the opposite problem: they adored intimate talk and reveled in each other’s problems. They all knew each other, and were too eager with their phone calls and letters. She could not trust them with a secret, nor did she blame them, for she was part of the group. She would not have trusted herself. She was alone with a problem she did not know how to begin to address, and all she had in the way of wisdom was her paperback guide. On its garish red covers were portrayed two smiling bug–eyed matchstick figures holding hands, drawn clumsily in white chalk, as though by an innocent child.

***

They ate the melon in less than two minutes while the lads, instead of waiting out in the corridor, stood well back, near the door, fingering their bow ties and tight collars and fiddling with their cuffs. Their blank expressions did not change as they observed Edward offer Florence, with an ironic flourish, his glazed cherry. Playfully, she sucked it from his fingers and held his gaze as she deliberately chewed, letting him see her tongue, conscious that in flirting with him like this she would be making matters worse for herself. She should not start what she could not sustain, but pleasing him in any way she could was helpful: it made her feel less than entirely useless. If only eating a sticky cherry was all that was required.

To show that he was not troubled by the presence of the waiters, though he longed for them to leave, Edward smiled as he sat back with his wine and called over his shoulder, “Any more of those things?”

“Ain’t none, sir. Sorry sir.”

But the hand that held the wineglass trembled as he struggled to contain his sudden happiness, his exaltation. She appeared to glow before him, and she was lovely—beautiful, sensuous, gifted, good–natured beyond belief.

The boy who had spoken nipped forward to clear away. His colleague was just outside the room, transferring the second course, the roast, to their plates. It was not possible to wheel the trolley into the honeymoon suite for the proper silver service on account of a two–step difference in level between it and the corridor, a consequence of poor planning when the Elizabethan farmhouse was “Georgianized” in the mid–eighteenth century.

The couple were briefly alone, though they heard the scrape of spoons over dishes, and the lads murmuring by the open door. Edward laid his hand over Florence's and said, for the hundredth time that day, in a whisper, “I love you,” and she said it straight back, and she truly meant it.

Edward had a degree, a first in history from University College, London. In three short years he studied wars, rebellions, famines, pestilences, the rise and collapse of empires, revolutions that consumed their children, agricultural hardship, industrial squalor, the cruelty of ruling elites—a colorful pageant of oppression, misery and failed hopes. He understood how constrained and meager lives could be, generation after generation. In the grand view of things, these peaceful, prosperous times England was experiencing now were rare, and within them his and Florence’s joy was exceptional, even unique. In his final year he had made a special study of the “great man” theory of history—was it really outmoded to believe that forceful individuals could shape national destiny? Certainly his tutor thought so: in his view History, properly capitalized, was driven forward by ineluctable forces toward inevitable, necessary ends, and soon the subject would be understood as a science. But the lives Edward examined in detail—Caesar, Charlemagne, Frederick the Second, Catherine the Great, Nelson and Napoleon (Stalin he dropped, at his tutor’s insistence)—rather suggested the contrary. A ruthless personality, naked opportunism and luck, Edward had argued, could divert the fates of millions, a wayward conclusion that earned him a B minus, almost imperiling his first.

Continues...

Excerpted from On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan Copyright © 2007 by Ian McEwan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Reading Group Guide

1. What do the novel’s opening lines tell us about Edward and Florence? How did your perceptions of them change throughout the subsequent pages? What details did you eventually know about them that they never fully revealed to one another?

2. Is Edward’s libido truly the primary reason he proposes marriage, or were other factors involved (perhaps ones he did not even admit to himself)? Are relationships harmed or helped by cultural restrictions against sex before marriage? Would this marriage have taken place if the couple had met when birth–control pills were no longer just a rumor?

3. Edward replays the words “with my body I thee worship” in his mind. What might have been the intention in including that line when this version of the marriage ceremony was written? How does it make Edward feel?

4. Ian McEwan describes the novel’s time period as an era when youth was not glorified but adulthood was. We are also told that Edward was born in 1940, while his parents contemplated possible outcomes of the war with Germany. At what point did Edward and Florence’s solemnity become viewed as old–fashioned? What contributed to that shift? What are your recollections, or those shared by relatives who lived it, of the emerging youth culture of the late 1960s and ’70s?

5. Were Florence and Edward incompatible in ways beyond sexual ones? What do their difficulties in bed say about their relationship altogether? Or is sex an isolated aspect of a marriage?

6. Chapter two describes how Florence and Edward met; the first paragraph tells us that they were too sophisticated to believe in destiny. How would you characterize the kind of love they developed? What made them believe they were perfect for one another? Are any two people perfect for one another?

7. What did Edward’s decision to go to London for college indicate about his goals? What was Florence’s dream for her future? Was marriage a greater social necessity for her, as a woman? Would her career as a classical musician necessarily have been sacrificed if she had remained with Edward?

8. Compare Edward’s upbringing to Florence’s. How did their parents affect their attitudes toward life? How did the limitations of Edward’s mother shape his feelings about responsibility and women? Was Florence drawn to her mother’s competitiveness?

9. To what extent was the financial gulf between Edward and Florence a source of trouble? How might the relationship have unfolded, particularly during this time period, if Edward, not Florence, had been the spouse with financial security?

10. Chapter four recounts the moment when Edward tells Florence he loves her because she’s “square,” not in spite of it. Are their opposing tastes the product of their temperaments or the episodes in their young lives? What is your understanding of her revulsion to sex?

11. Discuss the novel’s setting, which forms its title. What is the effect of the creaky hotel McEwan creates, and the crashing permanent waves on a beach where the temperatures are still chilly in June? What does it say about the newlyweds that this is the scene of their wedding night?

12. In the end, Edward explores various “what ifs.” Would their marriage have lasted if he had consented to her request for platonic living arrangements? What are the best ways to predict whether a couple can sustain a marriage?

13. How would Edward and Florence have fared in the twenty–first century? Has the nature of love changed as western society has evolved?

14. The author tells us that the marriage ended because Edward was callous, and that as Florence ran from him, she was at the same time desperately in love with him. Why did Edward respond the way he did? Why was it so difficult for them to be honest about their feelings? How would you have reacted that night?

15. Discuss the structure of On Chesil Beach . What is the effect of reading such a compressed storyline, weaving one night with the years before and after it? How did it shape your reading to see only Edward’s point of view in the end? What might Florence’s perspective have looked like?

16. In what ways does On Chesil Beach represent a departure for Ian McEwan? In what ways does it enhance the themes in his previous fiction?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 66 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(27)

4 Star

(11)

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(11)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 66 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 28, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Sun, sea and melancholy

    The book itself is rather small in stature but when the story started my attention was instantly saturated with powerful intensity for it. I found this novel to be quite extraordinary and read it in one sitting - right after having oysters for brunch; I left ready and pounced on it ferociously and enjoyed it until dusk arrived. This was my first time reading McEwan and I found his language, ideas and wording very easy to slip into. Some authors requite an adjustment, sometimes it feels like a change of latitude and climate, even gravity but not with Ian, it's hard for me to imagine anyone who's not curios about life that would not enjoy this. <BR/><BR/>It's a brief novel set in the 1960's, all I knew about it before I read it was that I spotted it on the New York Times Saturday Book Review ( my favorite) bestsellers section and the simple mention of a wedding night going horribly wrong hooked me. This indeed was a mess slowly unraveling, making me read on nervously knowing that something ugly is about to perspire. The story starts of gently enough but pretty soon the reader gets a real glimpse of Florence, the young bride, and her revulsion of all things having to do with the secrets of the flesh. Even before she married Edward her love for him was warm and pleasant, almost maternal but a few hours after the wedding during their supper, being able to see the freshly made bed in the next room of their honeymoon suite was making her nauseous and fearful of disappointing her new husband with her true feelings concerning the dreaded wedding night. <BR/><BR/>The acting between Florence and Edward that takes place, the restrained talk and emotions when Edward can barely stand not pouncing on his bride while eating, the dance like charade skillfully played by almost petrified Florence and the glimpses back on how they met set up a heck of a story, the reader knows that things are about to go badly for both of them. Either the bride goes with the flow and makes the best of her situation or she offends Edward and shows him her true feelings. The energy generated by minimal dialogue, sensitive writing and skillful psychology made for an incredibly alluring and mesmerizing book. This isn't only about committing the act, it was more about human errs and not being true and honest with one self, trying to act according to the times and not engaging in close contact with your partner, not understanding who he is until marriage. One can easily see how this type of a scenario can make for hair rising fiction (even scarier, it was probably true back then). <BR/><BR/>Living in different times makes it easy for me to judge, through out the book I kept thinking "I would never do that" or " I can't even imagine feeling like this woman" but I still connected with her, feeling sorry for her and being angry at her at the same time. This is a treat not to be missed, skillfully written and well told, a story that truly feeds the soul. <BR/><BR/>- Kasia S.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2007

    'This is how the entire course of a life can be changed - by doing nothing'

    Ian McEwan is a master of atmospheric writing, taking a seemingly isolated incident and building a story around it in a way that the reader completely lives in the moment described by his novel. He selects strange topics and then makes them feel so familiar by comparison to each of our lives that exploring the dense background he paints pulls us in like a strong magnet. Reading McEwan is one of the rare pleasures literature lovers find. Few writers of today can match his quiet, subtle, but bravura technique. ON CHISEL BEACH is essentially a study of a wedding night, a night when the two characters involved approach the virginal consummation of their marriage with disastrous results. Florence is bright, a gifted violinist, beautiful and fragile in affairs of the heart and senses: she is frigid. Edward, her new husband, is of lower class than she, but has reached a degree of education and overcome some thorny family obstacles to become a young bridegroom longing for his marriage night, a night he blunders with premature ejaculation. McEwan leads into this evening and its subsequent resolution on Chisel Beach with delicate prose, brings us to the topic of climax, and then offers flashes of background of each of his characters that allows us to understand the subsequent course of events 'doing nothing' brings. In beautiful prose, stunningly elegant writing, and rich observations of life in the early 1960s with all that the decade of 'enlightenment' and changes in England and the world produced, Ian McEwan has created another masterpiece. Highly recommended. Grady Harp

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2011

    Horrid

    Bad no point oh wait there was it was sex :p i mean that by gross

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2007

    Excellent

    The prose are colorful and make you feel like you are at the scene. The ocean backdrop is perfect. Each page is seamlessly linked to the next. The emotional tension throghout the book invites the reader to find out more. A book about chance and conviciton.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2007

    Is It Innocence or Ignorance?

    In this book McEwan takes us into the conflict that two virgins face on their wedding night. They are innocent or ignorant depending on your point of view about sexual matters. They want to reach out to each other but their early 60s morality stands in their way of expressing their love. Of course, they do love one another. Their problem lies in expressing it. The events happen within the span of one day with liberal use of flashbacks a style used by McEwan in other books. This book can easily be read in one-sitting and so the flow can remain unbroken.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Stripped of all pretense, these characters are pushed to surrender to what they know is true.

    McEwan is known for exquisite prose and On Chesil Beach is no exception. As the newlyweds dine and anticipate the consummation of their marriage, it's clear to the reader that all is not right in the world of Florence and Edward. Love is most certainly present, yet there is a delicate balance between Edward and Flo that tips precariously as the meal progresses and before you know it, dread has made its appearance. As the tension rises, and the moment of consummation nears, we are told in flashbacks how the couple came to be. In part, this knowledge of the couple makes their situation even more tragic. When you ask someone to marry you, you assume that you know everything about them, but this is not the case with Edward and Flo. Insecurities exist that neither are aware of until it's too late. I love McEwan's writing for a lot of reasons, but what I love the most is the level of detail within his stories. He puts you there, with the characters as they are experiencing their awkward moment and although it's uncomfortable, it's impossible to look away. I tend to lose myself when I read his writing and that to me, is the sign of a good novel. That, and the fact that his characters are often forced to deal with truth and the tragic consequences of their actions. I've read a few of McEwan's other novels and although this one is incredibly short, it still manages to be a very powerful read with characters that you can easily relate to.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    One of My Favorites!

    This book is beautifully written. I love that the characters are allowed to regret, something that no one admits to anymore.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Beautiful story

    I must admit, I'm a bit of a pansy when it comes to books like On Chesil Beach. I'm a long time fan of Ian McEwan, and with each of his novels I am continuously amazed at his ability to take a single, unpretentious moment and make it, skillfully and beautifully, eternal. That is exactly what McEwan does in On Chesil Beach. He interweaves the past and the future of two people, Edward and Florence, on their honeymoon. He takes a brief, dull moment and brings it to life. Each sentence of the novel is written with a certain strength and focus unique to McEwan's writing style, which as a reader I have come to love dearly. On Chesil Beach is essentially one scene: Edward and Florence consummating their new marriage. The reader is taken on a riveting journey through the deep, powerful thoughts and emotions of these two well-developed characters during probably the most significant event of their relationship. Edward is nervous and excited, but afraid of letting Florence, and subsequently himself, down. Florence is largely disgusted by even the thought of sex, but she doesn't want to disappoint her husband. Through all of the conflict and passion, the reader is brought to an inspiring, heart-felt end that, yes, made me cry. The tears were well worth it, though, and I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good story. It is a quick but meaningful read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2010

    Great Book Club Discussion

    We read this book for our book club. The women in our book club range in age from 28-65. This book, even though it is not a literary masterpiece, provided us with some of the most lively discussion we have had in the past five years. The multiple age groups provided our discussion with many different perceptions and perspectives over the events leading up to, during and after the wedding night.

    I would strongly recommend this book for a multigenerational discussion.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2008

    Lack of communication

    I felt sorry for these characters. They were clearly from families where communication was not a strongsuit. They found each other and accepted the lack of communication throughout their time dating. When it finally came time to communicate they did it in anger and then ran away from each other both literally and figuratively. It was a good book but not a great book. It did remind me how truly important communication is and how some people just have no tools for it. How many people are like this in their personal lives? I expect more than we or I like to think.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2007

    Wow...

    I didn't realize it until the book was over how emotional reading this novel had made me. I was reading about people, then all of a sudden, I was right there with this couple I knew so much about and feeling the same feelings they were going through. I felt the characters love for one another, their young, misunderstood anger and, at the end, the regret...the 'what ifs'. I remember getting to the anger part of the story and telling my wife how evil this author is and how he is mangling this pure love. At the end, I thought the author was intellegent and had captured life so well. This novel is a moment in a life that is so beautiful, yet tragic. This novel leaves you moved and reminds you that life is a short game and to play it wisely. Thank you, Ian, for such a great novel...and dare say another classic.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2007

    Short Sorrowful Powerful

    I read this book 2 months ago and I can still find myself on Chesil beach with the 2 (almost) lovers, or in their hotel room. What brillant writer. Thank you Mr. McEwan!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2013

    Not worthy

    A distressing and anticlimatic short read-HUGE disappointment.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2013

    This from the author of Atonement???? Newly married couple are u

    This from the author of Atonement???? Newly married couple are unable to speak to each other? That is why they are supposed to make love, not talk! Talk only gets you into trouble. But even then, this is so outlandish as to be ridiculous!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2012

    Really????

    It's hard to understand how a fine author could write a book such as this.
    I kept waiting for it to improve...No such luck.
    Avoid the hour it took to read. Do some laundry!

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  • Posted June 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Blah! Blah! and Blah!

    I read the sparkling reviews and bought this book with much anticipation. I bought "Water for Elephants" at the same time and LOVED it! This book was another story. Actually...one that was shallow and strained. I enjoyed the characters but the most interesting one to me was the brain damaged mother. How can a book be based on something so common and how can anyone imagine that two people who loved each other could not get past such an accident. Blah!!!!!! I want my money back!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2008

    A Total Waste of Time & Money!

    This miserable tale of a botched love-making could have been told in 10 pages but it wasted over 200. Both characters were so pitiful I could not find sympathy for either. I cannot believe this book was even published, & likely would not have been had 'Atonement' not done so well.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2008

    BORING BOOK

    This book was a total bore. The whole premise of the book was ridiculous. I guess what happened on the wedding night was plausible, but then very little on what happened afterward in their lives. Waste of my time and alot of my money.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2008

    Underlying meaning of this book is so much more than about sex

    I found this book to be beautifully written but perhaps a bit over descriptive. The emotions of the two characters felt so raw to me throughout the book. But the bottom line of this book is not about sex, it's about communication. Learning how to properly communicate with your partner is the single most important thing you can ever learn in your life. And this book shows you how not learning how to do it can alter the course of your life entirely. I found the ending to be so sad I was almost in tears. I kept thinking they would get in contact again at some point. The fact that they never spoke again ever is tremendously sad. Also the fact that Edward ended up a lonely old man with a broken marriage in his past and no children, which he dearly dreamed of, is just plain heartbreaking.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2008

    Something Different!

    This is one of my new favorite books. Both characters are so well developed...I felt like I knew them. This is the perfect example of how one moment can change a lifetime.

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