Chris's Reviews > On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
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's review
Apr 03, 2014

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction
Read on May 26, 2011

Edward, who has just married Florence as On Chesil Beach opens, hopes to write a series of popular histories focusing on nearly great men. This is an extension of his conviction, developed in the course of taking a history degree, that for all the power of structures, masses, and long-term developments, individual great men still shape history. McEwan makes a similar point about Edward and Florence's lives. Despite the importance of their fundamental characters and a lifetime worth of planning and aspirations, their lives are transformed by a seemingly minor series of miscommunications, misunderstandings, and slightly miscalibrated words and tone at critical moments.

Update 4/3/14
But, looking at what I wrote before, it's also clear that Edward and Florence's problems are tied to their upbringing in a specific time and place. McEwan's decision to set the story in the past highlights this. The story is a delicate balance. On one hand, a whole host of cultural, family, and personal elements are pushing the couple toward tragedy. Despite this, as I indicated earlier, it's still a few well chosen words, or silences, that doom them. This combination propels the book and gives it a peculiar quality of being inexorable and contingent.

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