Camille Tassos's Reviews > On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
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's review
May 10, 2008

really liked it
Recommended to Camille by: Jordan Anderson
Read in May, 2008

** spoiler alert ** What an amazing conversational piece. What is the biggest mistake made in young relationships? Lack of Communication. The fear of trying to make someone understand what you yourself do not even understand. It is a language that has yet to be invented. Even when you try to explain with premium reason and conviction, your best efforts can be so easily misunderstood. Emotions become taciturn. It's hard to be blunt and to expect another to feel unscathed by the slightest blade that sliced a bit deeper than your usual, touch. Both men and women have a sensitive nature. Different, but equally as sensitive.
While I am definitely not a frigid wife, I do consider myself as being "guarded". I will do anything to make my husband happy and I love having sex with him, but there are still some things that scare me and make me nervous to even think about. I picture myself in Florence's light blue leather heels at that moment. I remember mulling up the confidence... and poise... to ask my husband about these supposed or assumed fantasies one night. I was of the mind that all men were desperate to conquer new land. Even worse was the thought that my husband had tread on that land before and would become aggravated if I, his wife, did not allow him the pleasure to conquer as he desired. Even as I asked the clumsy question, I had made up my mind that I would oblige his every fantasy and desire. The answer, "NO," was out of the question. The point is that I asked.
At the same time I felt like Edward about to explode inside his grey trousers. Marriage was the answer to his freedom from childhood and virginity. The answer to his feeling of nonexistence. It was the border that he had to cross that led to the promise of his future. While we all may like to think that this happened in another time and another world far from our own, it just isn't true. Florence and Edward were a part of the London Revolution in the late sixties. A revolution which spurred the freedom of sex. In many ways, we are still heaving the load of that revolution on our shoulders and the changes that it caused are a large part of who we are today. It has been an evolution in understanding the differences and similarities between a man and a woman and acknowledging their shared sexual and emotional needs.
I believe that I would have been tolerable of a man who could not fulfill his role on our wedding night, but that calmness and courage would have only arrived through my knowledge of the male anatomy, which I learned in my 6th grade health class and moreover, from the reliance and faith that I held in our relationship. When Florence gained the confidence to "guide" Edward, as she had been instructed in her book, she had absolutely no deliberation as to what would occur by her touch. Since Florence had never felt the slightest sense of sexual excitement within herself before this evening, it is supposed that she would have had no idea as to the manner in which she was provoking Edward and how it caused him such pleasure. Pleasure that she did not understand. Pleasure that she considered, or rather "recalled" as shameful and disgusting.
I believe that Florence was sexually abused by her father during their "father-daughter" excursions and that she forced a subconscious block on those memories from her childhood. This is the reason that she was so repulsed by the thought of any sexual acts and also why she had such mixed feelings toward her father. The author mentioned that while at one moment Florence abhorred her father and despised his being, the next moment she would cuddle to his broad chest and kiss his bald head with reassurance. While lodging with the Ponting family, Edward, himself became conflicted with the relationship between Florence and her father. Although it is never mentioned in the afterthoughts of their marriage, it is suggested that Edward pondered the thought that Mr. Ponting might be losing more than just a daughter by their marriage.
Although it was only mentioned for a second, my favorite part of the book was when Florence clearly acknowledged her sexuality and hope that she could feel more pleasure and excitement as she had so briefly when Edward scanned her stray pubic hair with his thumb. After Edward removed her underwear and decided to undress and prepare himself rather than concentrate on the feminine body that lay before him, Florence became aware of the fact that she too had needs to be met. So unlike her character, Florence even wished at that moment that Edward's hand could linger in her pelvic region and suggest the notion of satisfaction and pleasure in her future.
I thought that the end of the book was miserable, but all in all, it was a lesson well taught. Communication, even as unfiltered, baffling and perplexing as it may sound coming from the mouth of another, is the key to happiness in any relationship. I think that the theme of the book was that "they were almost there." (Ok, Edward got there, "arriving too soon.") With just an ounce more of communication, I felt as if their problems would have been solved and that Edward and Florence would have lived happily ever after. Florence definitely needed a "psychoanalyst" to overcome her father's abuse and subsequent repulsion for sex. Edward needed patience and maturity. Unfortunately the two go hand-in-hand.
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