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On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
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Jan 01, 2009

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bookshelves: fiction, women-protagonists, read-in-2008
Read in January, 2008

After the heavy reading of The Accidental and On Beauty, this book comes as a refreshing breeze. This book is short and sweet and is over before you know it.

On Chesil Beach is about Florence and Edward, the newly weds who decide to go to Chesil Beach for their honeymoon. The book opens with the two of them sitting uncomfortably in their honeymoon suite and wishing that the dreadful moment of their marriage consummation never occurs. Florence thinks she is ‘odd’ because she has never felt the physical urge and she finds the very thought of it repulsive. She is a virgin, of course, and is not really looking forward to that moment when she has to give it up.

Edward, on the other hand, is perfectly normal and fantasizes about it and looks forward to it. His worry is that he might act too quickly and thus spoil his bride’s fun. The author captures this tense moment beautifully and the reader really wishes that the dreaded moment never occurs.

McEwan doesn’t waste too much time in setting the plot or establishing the characters. He directly takes the reader to the scene where the action is and then takes the reader back in time to give a bit of a background about his main characters. Neither of them had a normal childhood, so to say, and the reader tries to attribute the reason for Florence’s so called oddity to her childhood.

All credit to McEwan for handling such a sensitive subject in a graceful way. Be it his description or his choice of words, the reader never feels that it is vulgar. He gives it just the right amount of focus and importance to create the tension required.

The first scene in the honeymoon suite has constant switching of POVs between Edward and Florence and this made it difficult to read. Just as you begin to sympathize with Florence, the author suddenly drops you in Edward’s mind and then you are confused! I wish he had split the two POVs into separate chapters and may be describe the same scene twice in two different POVs. That would have been interesting.

The novel ends with an emotional note. Before the reader can react to the story, the author chooses to end it. I liked the book and wanted it to go on. I probably liked it because it was short.

This is a nice, little book, little being the key word here. Give it a try. If you like it, well and good. Even if you don’t, you don’t have to worry too much about it, because you won’t spend so much time reading it.

The following paragraphs contain some details about the book which may be termed as spoilers:

The uncomfortable night progresses and the two end up having a fight. The fight scene itself is narrated completely from Florecen’s POV. McEwan describes her emotions so beautifully in this scene. She is upset with herself for behaving in a certain way and her inner voice says she should apologize, but she suppresses it and puts the blame on Edward. This scene is so captivating. It probably would not have worked so well from Edward’s POV.

The couple decides to separate and the last couple of scenes is told from Edward’s POV. I wonder why the author chose to narrate it this way. The author does not even reveal what happens to Florence, apart from her dream of a live concert coming true. I would have liked it better if the last few scenes had Florence’s POV. I wanted to know what her emotions were after the fight and whether she felt she made the wrong choice.
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