It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come and, unbeknownst to them both, the events of the evening will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Novelist Ian McEwan excels at putting relationships under the microscope and examining their cracks. In On Chesil Beach, he casts his eye on newlyweds Florence and Edward. It’s 1962, and the novel turns what initially appear to be standard wedding-night nerves into something far darker; the events of that evening end up changing the entire course of the couple’s future. Unfolding through a series of flashbacks, the story expands on the couple’s courtship and examines the social expectations of the era. Saoirse Ronan stars in the movie adaptation.
Not quite novel or novella, McEwan's masterful 13th work of fiction most resembles a five-part classical drama rendered in prose. It opens on the anxious Dorset Coast wedding suite dinner of Edward Mayhew and the former Florence Ponting, married in the summer of 1963 at 23 and 22 respectively; the looming dramatic crisis is the marriage's impending consummation, or lack of it. Edward is a rough-hewn but sweet student of history, son of an Oxfordshire primary school headmaster and a mother who was brain damaged in an accident when Edward was five. Florence, daughter of a businessman and (a rarity then) a female Oxford philosophy professor, is intense but warm and has founded a string quartet. Their fears about sex and their inability to discuss them form the story's center. At the book's midpoint, McEwan (Atonement, etc.) goes into forensic detail about their na ve and disastrous efforts on the marriage bed, and the final chapter presents the couple's explosive postcoital confrontation on Chesil Beach. Staying very close to this marital trauma and the circumstances surrounding it (particularly class), McEwan's flawless omniscient narration has a curious (and not unpleasantly condescending) fable-like quality, as if an older self were simultaneously disavowing and affirming a younger. The story itself isn't arresting, but the narrator's journey through it is.
Customer ReviewsSee All
This book like all his books is well written but the couples inability to communicate is heartbreakingly torturous. It is purely a study of a relationship which is so restrained nothing really happens in the entire book. I have to say that I didn’t enjoy this book at all and yet it lingered on popping into my mind to be re-examined for years.