On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach

by Ian McEwan
3.6 69


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On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan


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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307386175
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/10/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 116,604
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.


Oxford, England

Date of Birth:

June 21, 1948

Place of Birth:

Aldershot, England


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

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On Chesil Beach 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 69 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.
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
In life, small moments hold the secrets of years, and one chance disaster or dream changes everything. Like Chesil Beach, our lives are built on pebbles stranded by chance. In Ian McEwan’s novel, the course of dreams has led to the wedding night of two characters who, like any married couple, might just as easily never have met. Each carries the secrets of their time—1960s, before the sexual revolution, when intimacy wasn’t talked about and fears were never expressed. The question arises promptly—how much control will those secrets, born of small moments, have over the future of love. Ian McEwan’s ability to slip into the mind of a woman’s wounded innocence drives one third of this tale, while his masterful depiction of man’s balancing act between action and emotion drives another. But a third story slips between the lines, extending what could be a simple story of the 60s into a novel for all times. Those secrets we keep, those moments that break, those hurts that are secret until the right time which, being a moment itself, might never arise... Are there dark things untold in this novel? That’s for the reader to guess. Certainly sexual details are proffered with surprising detail and intimate compassion. But there’s always a sense of more, guessed at but never expressed. And if life’s unknowns are poured into music by the end, perhaps it’s the song of the waves on Chesil Beach. Disclosure: A friend didn’t particularly enjoy this novel so she gave it to me and I loved it.
manbooker1989 More than 1 year ago
This book is very easy to read, but in that simplicity there is a whole realm of thought and intrigue. The main issue that arises, almost from the very first page, is: what is love. Is love sex and nothing else. Or is it that affection of holding hands? The newlyweds struggle to grasp the solution, both too young and perhaps too naïve to communicate what they want. McEwan was written a sensitive, almost satirical, novella about early marriage that certainly applies to today. With the first steps into a relationship, Florence senses that Edward wants more each step of the way. Edward, ironically, does; he is that stereotypical male that only wants that one thing. Yet that does not mean that he does not love Florence, does not crave her. And she, so focused on her music and on life, cannot give him this thing; or she tires and things give a turn. But McEwan ends it on the right note (so man-bookerish of him), Edward is reminiscent and ponders his past without her. AS very touching book that should be read slowly, but somehow cannot be!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To read this, brace yourself. The reality of this couple will slap you in the face.
Carmenlana More than 1 year ago
I read this after Atonement, which is probably one of my favorite novels of all time.  I enjoyed On Chesil Beach very much.  It is not as grand in scale as Atonement, but has McEwan's razor sharp writing and intuition about people and relationships.
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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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