Taylor's Reviews > On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
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Nov 03, 14

bookshelves: fiction, the-power-of-love, hey-shorty, awards-and-accolades
Recommended for: People who are uncomfortable with sex?
Read in April, 2009

I've been ruminating on this for a couple days now, and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

On Chesil Beach is the story of two newlyweds on the evening of their honeymoon. Both are virgins, and nervous about what's to take place in the bedroom. Focusing, as per usual, on the effect of one moment in time, McEwan traces their evening through its... not so good happenings, and unveils the result.

Most of the novella (it's so short, took me basically less than four hours to read) actually takes place outside of the wedding night, and is comprised of flashbacks. How the couple met, how and why they stayed together in the absence of physical intimacy.

Edward and Florence both have their flaws. Edward is almost naively dutiful and eager. He proposes the first time Florence puts her hand near his genitals. Florence is rigid and cowardly. No only is she terrified of sex, she dislikes french kissing - she doesn't like the notion of anyone infringing upon her physical space, yet longs for a lifetime with companionship, but no sex. Both of these are understandable in the context of youth, most people have probably felt almost all of the emotions they go through at some point during their adolescence. But even though this takes place in the 60s, their reasoning for their chastity seems out of place and almost unbelievable - and this comes from someone who was a very, very late bloomer.

My feelings on that matter extend to the relationship in general. There are moments when it seems the couple is truly in love, and other times when it feels questionable, though part of me wonders if this wasn't McEwan's intent. Is he implying that had they slept together sooner, the goings on in the bedroom would have revealed their incompatibility? It's hard for me to say when I consider the ending (which I won't say more about).

Once again, McEwan's dismount is uncomfortable to me. Just as it seemed to me that he shrugged off the ending of Atonement by more or less saying, "I don't know how to end this," the ending of On Chesil Beach leaves much to be desired. He chronicles the entire novella through the points of view of both characters, except for the ending, which he only tells through Edward's eyes - who I found to be the less compelling character. Florence held more questions for me, all of which he leaves unanswered. Thus, it feels incomplete, lacking.

This might be one of those things I have to read at a different time (it was a bit weird reading it after the dissolution of a relationship), but for now I'm still just kind of iffy on it.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Cecily Re "But even though this takes place in the 60s, their reasoning for their chastity seems out of place and almost unbelievable"

It is hard to credit, but the sixties didn't swing for most Brits until the 70s. My own parents are pretty much the same age as Edward and Florence, and certainly mother was at least as naive as Florence.


Taylor Cecily wrote: "It is hard to credit, but the sixties didn't swing for most Brits until the 70s. My own parents are pretty much the same age as Edward and Florence, and certainly mother was at least as naive as Florence. "

Fair enough - I hadn't really considered the Britishness factor there!


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