On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach

by Ian McEwan

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Saoirse Ronan

The bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author of Atonement brilliantly illuminates the collision of sexual longing, deep-seated fears, and romantic fantasy on a young couple’s wedding night.

It is 1962, and Florence and Edward are celebrating their wedding in a hotel on the Dorset coast. Yet as they dine, the expectation of their marital duties become overwhelming. Unbeknownst to them both, the decisions they make this night will resonate throughout their lives. With exquisite prose, Ian McEwan creates in On Chesil Beach a story of lives transformed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307386175
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/10/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 223,024
Product dimensions: 5.34(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.67(d)

About the Author

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.

Hometown:

Oxford, England

Date of Birth:

June 21, 1948

Place of Birth:

Aldershot, England

Education:

B.A., University of Sussex, 1970; M.A., University of East Anglia, 1971

Read an Excerpt

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, he would 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.

Reading Group Guide

“Breathtaking.”
The Washington Post Book World

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach.

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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On Chesil Beach 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 182 reviews.
Kasia_S More than 1 year ago
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.

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.

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).

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.

- Kasia S.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
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.
X_in_SF More than 1 year ago
This book is beautifully written. I love that the characters are allowed to regret, something that no one admits to anymore.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is a truth universally acknowledged that once an author achieves a certain repute in his or her career, any manuscript he or she should care to submit has an excellent chance of getting published - and that is not always a good thing. Such is the case with Ian McEwan's latest novel - at 166 pages, more like a novella - titled i On Chesil Beach /i . Perhaps after the sheer scale and density of i Saturday /i (2005), McEwan wanted a project of more domestic proportions. Hence, rather than dealing with any overtly significant dates or political issues, the entire novel pivots on a young couple's wedding night in the summer of 1962. While McEwan skillfully weaves the drama over several lyrical chapters, in a nutshell here's the conflict: He wants to consummate the marriage while she pathologically detests sex. Though such a situation is obviously doomed to end badly, the author manages to spin out this slender idea by delving into his character's lives, though in contrast to the psychological depths of his best character studies, these can't help but feel cliched and cursory. He, Edward, is revealed to have a brain-damaged mother while she, Florence, has an overly intellectual one. He's a country boy, she's a city girl. He loves the blues, she loves Beethoven. McEwan gives us glimpses into these lives fated for a head-on collision but you can't help anticipating the eventual anti-climax even at the book's midpoint. Still, this is McEwan, and there are plenty of breathtaking phrases and masterly of descriptions along the way that remind you why he is so highly respected. Florence's sense of helplessness and doom is perfectly captured in her thoughts during foreplay, which she imagines as 'a small scale enactment, a ritual tableau vivant, of what was still to come, like a prologue before an old play that tells you everything that must happen'. McEwan is also known for meticulously learning about different trades in order to realistically write about them from his characters' perspectives,and the same is very much in evidence here. Florence is a virtuoso violinist who starts her own quartet while still in school and McEwan peppers her narrative with references to arpeggios and double stops while giving the reader an intimate tour of the backstage of Wigmore Hall. Still, it is frustrating to plough through pages of character development with no pay-off, and McEwan seems to lose steam towards the end. Emotional confusion is not only left unresolved - nay, not even examined - while the epilogue is disturbingly one-sided in perspective. If a young writer had written this book, his editor would have sent i back and asked him to flesh out the material. But this is McEwan, and so let us simply pick out the bits to nominate for the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award while waiting for his next masterpiece to be published.
RoseCityReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On Chesil Beach is a perfectly crafted tragedy that describes the way a life can go so easily astray. Through the eyes of the omniscient narrator, we watch the excruciating, awkward wedding night of Florence and Edward who, in 1962, are too freighted with history to breach the cusp of the sexual revolution. The consequences are heartbreaking.
gypsysmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love McEwan's writing and I am impressed by how well he can get inside people's minds. Florence's and Edward's reactions seemed so right even though I wanted them to get over "the incident". The book is better for not having explicitly mentioned the abuse by Florence's father. I was dreading turning the page after they started talking on the beach because I thought "Now, she's going to remember about her father."
LisaLynne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like the previous Ian McEwan book, Satuday, all the action in On Chesil Beach takes place on a single day, in a span of a few short hours. Of course, the story is fleshed out with flashbacks and histories, as he tells the story of two scared virgins on their wedding night. One thing that was really interesting to me is that this book is set in the same year that my parents got married. Strange to think of them in the same light.One of the things I like about this book is that it doesn't feel the need to spell everything out, light up the plot points with neon lights and bash you over the head with the obvious. There are plenty of signposts along the way, but he is confident enough to let you fill in the blanks yourself. And when you do, have a box of tissues handy.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Audiobook...................Wonderful piece of literature. An intimate psychological view into the minds and hearts and childhoods of two people who have been married for a few hours and are both virgins. A shocking insight into the assumptions we make about one another and the reasons we make them. This is an intense and engaging novel.
Smiler69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book, which I read in 2009 was my introduction to Ian McEwan. I had no expectations when I started reading this story and was at first charmed by how beautifully McEwan writes. I knew it was about a young couple, Florence and Edward, on their wedding night in the early 60's, both at grips with their unspoken anxieties in regard to the consummation of their marriage. I found it interesting that McEwan continually pointed out how different mentalities were before the sexual revolution¿something we might easily forget nowadays when seemingly ¿anything goes¿. Also of interest to me was the fact that McEwan delved into descriptions of intimate physical acts in great detail, almost clinically, rendering the topic of sex completely devoid of sensuality, making it sound grotesque even, which I thought conveyed perfectly how Florence must have felt about it all along, and also illustrated the great chasm between the newlyweds well before they had tied the knot. I found the ending disappointing and seemingly thrown together, wishing we hadn¿t been told about any happenings beyond that wedding night. It would have been best for McEwan to leave it up to the reader to decide what course their lives might have taken on after that night.
bhowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is brilliant and is classic McEwan. I have to confess that he is one of my favourite authors and I have read everything he has ever written and buy his books as soon as they are available. Having said that, this is a book that anyone could enjoy and I read it in one sitting. If you want an intellectual analysis, read the review in the June 3, 2007 New York Times Book Review but as the reviewer, Jonathan Letham himself notes shortly into his piece, "If you are inspired by the hook above, read the book --it'll be nearly as quick as reading my review, and more fun"It is also hard to discuss an aspect of the book without spoiling the mystery and tension that build throughout this book and which will keep you reading to the end. After reading the book and then thinking on it for a day, I have lots of comments but they should only be diccussed with someone who has read the book.
Cecilturtle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This short book is a wonderful glimpse into couple relationships, the misunderstandings, the compromises, the patterns in communication. If anything it is too close to reality and may make the reader uncomfortable from the unveiling of such intimate emotions. A real gem.
davidabrams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Some writers work on large canvases¿wide, sprawling Dickensian landscapes which cover decades in the stride of less than ten pages¿while others have mastered the miniature. In his newest book, On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan has taken the narrow-scope novel to its pointiest tip. On Chesil Beach covers eight hours in the lives of just-married Edward and Florence Mayhew as they sit in their honeymoon suite on the English coast and contemplate the night to come.The entire plot boils down to two simple questions: Will they or won't they have sex; and, if they do, will it destroy their relationship? I can't remember the last time the mere promise of sex had me as close to the edge of my seat as did On Chesil Beach. McEwan teases us along for 130 pages as tension and suspense build. I could not turn the pages fast enough as I watched Edward and Florence pick at their cooling dinner meal, speak to each other in fits and starts, struggle with an uncooperative dress zipper, and dart their tongues into each other's mouths during a suffocating French kiss. Sex is the hoped-for happy ending, yet we suspect those hopes might be dashed like a cold-water wave against the rocky beach just outside their hotel window.McEwan is a genius at making us care about, and fully understand, his characters in as short and tight a space as possible. There is not a wasted word here as he relentlessly drives us forward and deeper into Edward and Florence, two 22-year-olds fumbling their way toward sex. You'd have to go as far back as Henry James to find another writer who so confidently explores the complexities of human behavior and the sharp divisions of class. McEwan goes James one better by delivering prose that is lighter and less ponderous.What elevates On Chesil Beach from any other book you're likely to read this year is the brilliant way McEwan takes us inside Edward and Florence with just a subtle shift from one sentence to the next. We barely notice when we go from a bridegroom unknotting his tie to the moment, years earlier, when he learned a startling truth about his mother. We move between Edward and Florence like invisible, uninvited guests, privy to their dark tangle of fears and desires.And oh what fears and desires there are. Though she loves Edward, Florence is petrified at the thought of sex, the sloppy physical act which is practically guaranteed to hurt and mortify. Early in the novel, we learn she is feeling "a visceral dread, a helpless disgust as palpable as seasickness." Edward, on the other hand, is brimful with sexual desire after having sworn off masturbation for the week prior to the wedding ("He wanted to be in top form for his bride"). He is ready to consummate but he remains blinded to Florence's psychological agony. Edward's selfish myopia and Florence's reluctance to forthrightly express herself to him form the molten lava core of the novel. If these characters ever once had an honest conversation, On Chesil Beach would not be half as interesting.The novel starts off on a happy note ("they had so many plans, giddy plans, heaped up before them in the misty future"), but it isn't long before we're seeing troublesome cracks in the relationship as they walk a tightrope across a chasm of sex. During their courtship, Florence has only allowed Edward limited access to the mysteries of her body. By slow degrees, he first sees her naked breasts in October, touches them in December (on December 19, to be exact), then finally kisses them in February ("though not her nipples, which he grazed with his lips once, in May"). Florence, on the other hand, "allowed herself to advance across his own body with even greater caution."It's no coincidence that On Chesil Beach is set in 1962, on the eve of the sexual revolution and the same year Helen Gurley Brown published Sex and the Single Girl. The Beatles, Woodstock and "free love" can be seen on the horizon, but for now, Edwa
marcyjill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While this book was beautifully written, I ended up disliking both of the characters. They were both pathetic and without redemption. I read the first chapter of this book when it was published in the New Yorker last year as a short story and I think it worked so much better that way. This book desperately needed editing -- especially the last chapter that truly ruins any sympathy that was possible. Sometimes a novella or a long short story really is all that there is to a story no matter how much the publisher wants it to be a full-length novel. The one saving grace is Ian McEwan's beautiful writing that carries you through the book and makes the whole experience much more enjoyable than it would have been in less talented hands.
Fullmoonblue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've read McEwan's Amsterdam, Atonement, and now On Chesil Beach. And I have to agree with a previous reviewer: although his main characters aren't always 'likeable' (in a traditional sense) they remain very compelling. There's an honesty to them, particularly in this story; they're so exposed, warts and all, and yet also so human that you have to empathize to some extent. Or at least excuse them. Not everyone is sweet and lovely, after all. Especially when you're young. McEwan's description of this couple's wedding night has apparently shocked some readers, but I thought it restrained. This is a honeymoon in merrily restrained olde Englande; the nouns are direct, but the verbs are pretty dull. If you have a television, you've probably seen MUCH worse. Or better, I guess...Anyway. I finished it in a single night. It's not an epic like Atonement, but it's engaging and well crafted. Totally worth the read.
crazy4novels on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwanOn a fateful day in 1962, Charles and Florence approach their wedding night at a Dorset beach hotel with very different perspectives. Charles is wild with anticipation and full of hope that Florence's straightlaced behavior during their long and stilted courtship was only a modest ploy to conceal her hot-blooded nature. Florence is totally disgusted at the idea of physical contact, but she doesn't want to disappoint Charles or cause a scene. What follows is a fascinating study of personality, social norms, the psychology of sex, and the role of communication (or the lack thereof), sexual ignorance and youthful pride in the slow but inexorable demise of the evening. This is a wonderful 2-night read.
bethanydhart on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The brevity of this haunting novel truly lends to McEwan's singular focus. The heartbreak found in the place where communication cannot exist proved sympathetic and profound.
fyrefly98 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary: It's 1962, and Florence and Edward have just gotten married, and are on their honeymoon. Both are virgins, both are unsure about what happens next, both have wildly divergent opinions about sex (Edward being eager; Florence being totally disinterested and disgusted, but still feeling a sense of obligation). Neither of them, however, is able to communicate their feelings about the matter to the other, and so their wedding night quickly spirals further and further into awkwardness, isolation, and unhappiness.Review: I'm having a hard time reviewing this book. On the one hand, I understand that it was meant to be more of a literary exercise, and on technical grounds, it succeeds wonderfully - it's elegantly crafted and flawlessly written. On the other hand, I didn't particularly enjoy listening to it, in large part because I wasn't in the mood for "literary exercise" - I wanted a story. It's also very hard to enjoy a story when you find both characters to be obnoxious twits who you just want to shake by the shoulders while yelling "Just TALK TO HIM/HER, already, GOD!" And yes, I get that the fact that they couldn't talk to each other was kind of the point of the book, but that didn't stop it from being annoying. The resultant awkwardness was certainly recognizable (how often do we really talk totally openly about sex, even nowadays?), and familiar enough to make reading about it uncomfortable. While literature that makes you uncomfortable certainly has its place, and there are certainly tons of folks out there who can and do appreciate this book for its meditative musings and meticulous tone, it just wasn't what I wanted to be listening to. 2.5 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: I can recommend this book for aspiring writers as an excellent look at the process of crafting story, scene, characters and conflict. For someone who's just looking to get lost in an enjoyable read, however, they'd be best served looking elsewhere.
yourotherleft on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On Chesil Beach is the story of Edward and Florence on their wedding night. The novel follows as the couple blunders through the first few hours of their wedded life, one excited and the other horribly repulsed by the idea of what's immediately to come. As the newlywed couple draws ever nearer to consummating their union, they discover that they are ill-prepared in their naivete and lack of true knowledge of each other not only for this, their wedding night, but also for their entire future together. Using the lengthy uncomfortable moments between the marriage and the doing of the deed, McEwan expertly weaves together the couple's past and their present. In just over two hundred pages he chronicles their first meeting, their falling into sweet, if ultimately superficial love for each other, and the unfortunate consequences of an evening that could have ended very differently. Even as the two contemplate their pasts and futures, their conflicting feelings about the moment at hand are ever present in McEwan's narrative.On Chesil Beach is a very big book in scope that is, physically, quite small. It is a book in which very little actually happens, and much to McEwan's credit, it's very unlikely that most readers will notice the lack of action. In fact, On Chesil Beach hums along at a pace that never feels laborious which seems to be ever a danger in books such as this. McEwan has created a tightly written and stunningly realistic portrait of an innocent couple on their wedding night, showing us two people who barely know themselves attempting to become one. Beautifully wrought description, imagery, and characterization bring both the wedding night and the retrospective scenes of the beginnings of Edward and Florence's relationship to life in all their minute intricacies. Using his newlyweds who seem to be virtual strangers even on their wedding night, McEwan beautifully brings home the point that we can never really know another person completely, and maybe love isn't quite all you need when it comes to sustaining a relationship.