On Chesil Beach On Chesil Beach discussion

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message 1: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry Let's start discussing this on the 15th of February 2008.

message 2: by Ruth (last edited Dec 17, 2007 10:59PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ruth Right, Sherry. I know. I just couldn't restrain myself. I'll be here when we start our official discussion, and I'll bet Ginny will be, too.


Jessica I can't wait!

Nicole I've never done this before, but am looking forward to it having just read On Chesil Beach.

Peter I too will want to throw in a few cents.

Dottie I'm ready -- I'm ready -- now I just have to keep thinking it over so I don't lose the whole thing!

message 7: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Just checked out the discussion of this one under Paul's review. I am no longer concerned about how one engages in a public discussion of On Chesil Beach.

Peter There are (something like) 148 pages of reviews. If you can find it again, could you post a link to Paul's review?

message 9: by Stephen (new)

Stephen I had the same problem, Peter. Try this link:


message 10: by Lynn (new)

Lynn Okay, for all of you who have been eagerly awaiting the official beginning of the On Chesil Beach discussion..... on your mark, get set, go! (Yes, I know it's not the 15th yet here in Iowa, but it is on the east coast and I'm ready to head to bed and read for a while!)

As I said elsewhere, I haven't had time to re-read this, but there are some things that have stuck with me through the months since I read it last May. One was the feeling that this couple wrestled with the issues of sex and sexuality as if they lived decades earlier instead of the 1960s. It made me realize just how much my dating life was affected by the advent of the Pill (I was in high school in the late 60s/early 70s), but I don't think that was the only reason for the bride's repressed mindset.

I hope to get a chance to look at the book again over the weekend, so I'll leave my other comments until then and let the rest of you chime in.


Dottie I didn't find this so odd as far as the inexperience and so on -- it is only -- what? 1962? (I was a high school senior that year) -- While there was a sea change taking place as far as sexual behaviors certainly -- I don't think the effect hit everywhere and everyone at once. All things depended upon where one was and how one was raised and what the family talked about or didn't and what expectations were. That's my caveat for my comments in the discussiion forthcoming. AND -- this isn't the carzy USofA -- it's prim and proper England -- and I have NO idea whether things were "behind" or "ahead" of the curve there then, but I'm sure there might be differences due to cultural, social differences -- yes, in the 60's.

It seemed to me that this couple had not been shy or backward in the time they spent together before the marriage and the disastrous wedding night -- so there's more to what happened than inhibitions me thinks. I'm looking forward to this one -- anxious to hear others ideas.

message 12: by Ruth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ruth In 1962 I was married with a 4-year old. '50-'56 were my prowling years, so I predate the couple in this book. That's a preface to my saying that even then, back in the dark ages, nobody, NOBODY I knew was that dumb about sex.

Yes, we can make a case that wasn't really ignorance but a short in the girl's wiring that made her act the way she did. I can buy that. But IM made so much of her ignorance, that we have to figure that in, and I just can't buy that.



I suspect that it wasn't ignorance so much as repression and trauma that were Florence's problems. There had to be something going on with her father. Remember how he made much of her younger sister, but totally ignored her? I think Florence had had a terrible experience and was basically in shock about anything to do with sex. Remember when she was trying to make a "joke" about killing her mother and marrying her father? I don't think that just flew into her head. I think she was trying to break the ice with Edward. Their real problem was not sex, but lack of communication. If she had confided in him about herself, I am positive things would have turned out differently. If HE had confided that he wasn't the all-too-experienced lover that she assumed he was, then SHE might have been more understanding of his urgency.

I listened to this in audiobook form, having read it earlier this year. There is a very enlightening interview with McEwan. I urge you all to listen to it, even if you don't listen to the whole book.

I thought the end of the book was so poignant and sad. The part that really got to me was Edward imagining the daughter he never had playing an instrument with her Alice band on. I just about lost it.

message 14: by Lynn (new)

Lynn I agree, Sherry, that something had to have happened between Florence and her father when she was younger. I seem to remember some trips she made with him on a boat that made me very uneasy. I also agree that communication (or lack thereof) was their biggest problem. I kept thinking "say something to him!" and "tell her what you're thinking!".


message 15: by Dottie (last edited Feb 15, 2008 09:34AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars


Bingo -- as Ruth would say!

There was something fishy about Florence being her father's companion -- on business trips and those boat trips -- there is a lot we aren't aware of but McEwan certainly put out some bait -- are we supposed to take it and run with it -- drawing the conclusion as to the cause of Florence's problems on her wedding night -- and before obviously -- since it was clearly stated they had been into the "everything but" stage during their evenings/days together before they married? Or are we to take this to some less obvious conclusion -- which also leads to the disaster in the hotel and on the beach?

message 16: by Stephen (last edited Feb 15, 2008 10:00AM) (new)

Stephen I’ll get to the sex eventually. I’ve read some interesting books about sex, and I think I may have something to contribute there.

I first wanted to say how much I admired this book. Ian McEwan must have labored mightily to make this prose appear so effortless. It must be hell to polish and polish a little gem like this with the sweat running down one’s back and then hear others characterize the finished product as a tiny piece of fluff unworthy of consideration for the Booker Prize. . . . . .I’ll bet that troubled Mr. McEwan for a whole couple of minutes at his massive Italian villa.

When he thought of her, it rather amazed him, that he had let that girl with her violin go. Now, of course, he saw that her self-effacing proposal was quite irrelevant. All she needed was the certainty of his love, and his reassurance that there was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them. . . . .

When I had finished the previous page, this page, and the next page, I was shaken. If a male reader in his sixties who has also made any remotely comparable error reads this ending and is not deeply affected, he needs to be put down immediately because it’s over for him already anyway--painlessly if possible but put down in any event.

I cannot remember an ending that I liked better since the tea cup dropped on one side of the world was caught before it hit the floor on the other side of the world. There were no cool tricks like that here though. Just a straight ahead, painfully vivid evocation of bittersweet but powerful regret.

Arctic Glad you're discussing Flo's relationship with her father here. I was puzzled/intrigued by that as well. The part about them not talking much yet giving each other knowing glances, and then her Oedipus comment on the beach both set off alarms in my head.

And I thought the part about Edward imagining his daughter was touching too...though it never occurred to me that a guy might see this as fulfilling some kind of fantasy to be loved by two women at once.

Leslie Spoiler:

I'm currently at work and don't have the book with me (should have thought ahead), but isn't there a moment during the acutal "almost sex" scene in which Florence conveys, quite blatantly, a familiarity with sex ... and clearly links this familiarity with her father?

There are hints, throughout the book, that Florence is not simply "backward," but I seem to remember something rather direct in that bedroom scene.

message 19: by Dottie (last edited Feb 15, 2008 01:11PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dottie Steve -- I am in total agreement with you on those pages -- that ending was/is wrenching -- and for Edward going forward carrying that wound in his being -- well -- just amazing writing as you say. I'm thinking this may end up as my favorite McEwan or at least tied for first on my list. This is very direct. Polished. Spare. -- and yet -- so much is buried in the spaces in that spare prose.

And -- refresh my mind as to the teacup thing -- it seems I've heard mention of this but have no peg to hang it on -- lost in the fog.

Leslie -- you may be right but I don't have a copy at all -- read the library's book and it is long gone back. I have this on my "to-buy" list though.

message 20: by Stephen (last edited Feb 15, 2008 01:48PM) (new)

Stephen Dottie, I was referring to Kip and Hana in The English Patient. . . .I think. . . . the novel, not the $%&*in’ movie. That discussion was a long time ago now.

Mr. McEwan is not without sin, however. Comparing Florence’s facial structure to that of a “high-born squaw” brought me up a little short. To my way of reading that passage, that was clearly the narrator’s phrase and not Edward’s. Sweet Jesus, couldn’t we at least have considered some alternatives? I’m not arguing for political correctness here. My point is that not all high-born squaws are of a type such that this conveys any useful information to us. Perhaps my experience with high-born squaws is simply too limited. That is to say, my own particular high-born squaw sample may be too small.

Since my mind is on it now, that rivals Ondaatje’s comparison of the appearance of the English patient’s private parts to a seahorse. My rant about that here many years ago earned me a small crystal seahorse via UPS, which is still prominently on display in my living quarters.

Marsha Ditto Steve. The writing is just incredible. This was my intro to IM's writing so I am thrilled to be able to start reading his other work.

I was expecting something very different from this book based on what I read about it before beginning the novel myself. I had thought it was about the last "good girls don't enjoy sex" period in Western civilization and I might understand something more of that line of thinking after reading this book- but it turned out to tell me much more about Florence as an individual than that societal norm.

I also had the distinct impression that Florence had been sexually abused by her father- which did illuminate some deeply held (and still in force) beliefs that one does not disclose incestuous relationships to anyone- including one's husband.

The other part of the story that I found completely offsetting (and supports the idea that Florence was abused) was that this marriage was simply dissolved in 1962. This was prior to these things being so casual- and I wondered that the family of this young girl would just say "Oh sure... let's just get that little marriage thing taken care of" in that age.

Leslie Okay I'm home, and I've found the passage I wanted. In the immediate aftermath of Edward's (cough) eruption, McEwan says this about Florence: "And there was another element, far worse in its way and quite beyond her control, summoning memories she had long ago decided were not really hers." Within the same paragraph, the smell in the air is described as summoning "the stench of a shameful secret locked in musty confinement" (130-131).

It seems to me that the reason she comes across as almost idiotically ignorant and inexperienced is she has convinced herself that this is the case ... when in fact she has had quite a lot of "experience" and has worked very hard to repress it.

As for the easy dissolution of the marriage ... as long as a marriage has not been consummated, I believe the church has historically granted annulments with little fuss (as long as it is the man requesting it). I wasn't raised Catholic, though, so I'm not very informed on such things.

Marsha I guess my impression was that the marriage was consummated. Am I wrong? I think most couples need to figure a few things out when they begin a sexual relationship.

message 24: by Stephen (last edited Feb 15, 2008 03:20PM) (new)

Stephen Marsha, you say, “. . .but it turned out to tell me much more about Florence as an individual than that societal norm.” I could not agree more. You are playing trump there. And it is for this very reason that I find Florence a far, far more interesting character than Edward. Her plumbing is not the only thing that is more complex than Edward’s.

Now, having said that, Marsha and Leslie, I am not yet ready to buy into the Paternal-Sexual-Abuse-of-Florence Theory. Leslie, those fascinating passages certainly indicate something happened. I’m just much less sure than everyone else as to what happened. Through the years the Constant Readers have been way too quick in my estimation to seize on some vague, possible earlier sexual abuse episode as a way to get a handle on a complex character. I’m not trying to be difficult. It’s a theory that has to be considered, but a little healthy skepticism is in order.

Oh, and Leslie is quite correct, I believe. This marriage was not consummated and therefore could have been annulled relatively easily even then. That’s one of the few things that I am pretty sure of.

With that I will be quiet and be a good “listener” for awhile. (I will get to the sex stuff later.)

message 25: by Ruth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ruth I read this a few months ago. I think I need to buy my own copy and do a reread, looking out for those creepy hints you people are talking about.


Marsha I read this in early Jan.- and I do recall that I was very reluctant to buy into sexual abuse- I really didn't buy it until her reaction to the act itself.

The thing is, Florence wasn't just innocent, or ignorant, or nervous, or any of the other "normal" reactions to first intercourse. She was revolted by the very thought of it. So... was she just naturally frigid as a result of her own makeup (a thought we females seem reluctant to entertain) or did some experience lead to that reaction?

Dottie An element of natural make-up seems very possible to me given her mother -- if I'm thinking correctly -- I'm going to have to get my own copy obviously sooner than later so I can go check facts.

Sigh -- such a sacrifice to have to buy a book I want to buy.

Still -- I do feel the overall reason for the problem is some combination of nature and experience.

Summer This is the second McEwan book I have had the pleasure of discussing on Goodreads. So far both have been ripe with topics for discussion. I look forward to reading more. If anyone wants to suggest which book I should read next, please do so. (If you don’t want to bother with browsing my shelves, I have read this and Atonement.)

Note: Not for the squeamish. Also, spoilers.

Steve, I found that squaw reference annoying as well. Was he really that much of a history nerd? Edward seemed to me far more backward than Florence. What was his excuse for being an insensitive lover on his wedding night? Wounded pride? Edward, you got the ending you deserved.

Now, I must respond to what Russ called “a surprisingly prudish rant” (back at the group page.) I personally found the sexual content to be extremely clinical and not exploitative at all, but maybe that’s because I am a student nurse in the midst of an OB rotation.

Which leads me to some other readers’ comments about the hinted incestuous relationship or fantasy (don’t give up on me yet, please keep reading) between Florence and her father. It is believable to me that a woman repressing childhood sexual abuse could be fixated on sex as filth. It is also believable to me that a child who was neglected in favor of another sibling might have some unresolved and misconstrued yearnings for affection and might feel that they are inappropriate and/or shameful. It is, however, completely unbelievable to me that a woman with NO sexual experience would be able to identify the sensation of one hair being touched. Especially since her partner was seemingly unaware. If Edward had been more “Hey baby, what’s this?” Then maybe, but since he was not (poor clueless Edward, you almost got it), it just doesn’t add up. Either she imagined it, due to her researching, or she was sensitized as to what it felt like.

I cannot address the whole sixties generation aspect from personal experience, but what struck me was Florence and Edward’s general social ineptitude. Were nerds having free or any love in the sixties? Edward later realized he was missing out right? So maybe society was as many of you have described it but Edward was late to figure it out and Florence wasn’t interested.

message 29: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 16, 2008 06:35AM) (new)

Sherry, Ruth,
Sorry to miss your earlier question/comments. I only just noticed them in the Group Digest that I received this morning. I tried to respond, but the site wouldn't take it. So I'll respond here, and now to Summer as well.

I've grown out of sympathy for books where explicit sex is the crux of the plot. Please, notice that I said 'explicit' and I said 'crux.'

As I mentioned someplace, I gave up on Atonement for its blatant use of a word that might easily have been said differently with no damage to the story (in mmy opinion) and now On Chesil Beach is even further in the wrong direction for my latter-day tastes. By now, it reeks of sex explotation to me. If a little was good for McEwan, it seems that more might be better? I don't agree, so he doesn't get my bucks.

I might say the subject itself is no stranger to me, nor am I prudish about it. I read Portnoy's Complaint when it came out a long long time ago and have since read virtually all of the once legally forbidden works, pretty much as a matter of principle as well as of interest. But no more. I have too many equally interesting books to read, with equally admirable authorial virtuosity and interesting plots -- and trouble finding time to read even them. So, by now, I easily pass by the explicit exploitation of sexual themes. And Summer, re OB/GYN, I hope this doesn't sound crude, but I am married with four children.

Finally, while sitting on the fence about it, I glanced through the reviews here on the site, and their own mixed reactions settled it for me. Among other things, I do go by what other regular readers have thought of a book.

So I lurk with considerable interest, to see the reactions of people here. I am probably just out of joint with the times.

But thanks for your invitations and comments. And now i hope that I might return to being a silent and ignored fly on the wall.

Marsha Oops- I'm new to this kind of book discussion and didn't think to post a spoiler warning for those lurking here for book ideas.

Spoiler below...

Summer, in defense of Edward, I would say that he was very aware that she was very nervous, but he also had good reason to believe that she was just a nice girl with no experience (as he had very little himself). Women have been enduring fumbling first attempts since the dawn of time (sorry, guys) and we don't generally run screaming from the room- although perhaps we should have thought of that earlier... :)

I thought of Edward as fairly typical for the time and men I know of that age. He did love her, he was well intentioned, and he had no clue what he had done wrong because he really didn't do anything wrong. That is why he is not terribly interesting here. He may have turned out to be a sensitive and attentive lover, given the opportunity.

Should he have gone after her? Yes. Absolutely. They had just gotten married! But he was humiliated, confused, feeling deceived. I felt terrible for Flo when he rejected her compromise offer- and I'm glad that he recognized later that she did not seek to offend him with such a compromise, but I can't blame him for feeling that way initially either. No one wants to be soundly rejected on their wedding night.

The brillance of this book is that there are few "red flags" waving in the wind. IM is more subtle and sends us a white flag with a red "X" in a corner. Makes for a much more interesting discussion.

message 31: by Marsha (last edited Feb 16, 2008 07:08AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marsha Russ-

I'll say quickly that I recently picked up 1001 Books you must read before you will die and I'll tell you I had no idea there were SO MANY books with sex as the main event. I guess seeing them all lined up like that really brought the point home for me. I probably shouldn't have been surprised.

message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

Sex, gender and love are what make the world go around, and always will. No doubt about it. It is the treatments that differ.

message 33: by Jess (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jess I am new to the Constant Reader and to McEwan, so bare with me.

The biggest fault I found with this couple is their lack of intimacy and with this I'm not talking about just sex. There was hardly any vulnerability between the two of them. I feel so sad for the both of them...their upbringings show a real lack of love and a real need to make good appearances a top priority. It turns both Florence and Edmund into people that can't say no. I think the day that Florence tries to conjure up while they are trying to consummate the marriage (where she went out and surprised Edmund at his house) is the only time we see vulnerability in their relationship...the kind where it's like, okay, here is my brain damaged mother, this is who I am and this is the baggage I bring with me.

The saddest part of the book to me is that the first thing either one of them has ever done to go against the status quo, that will cause them to look "bad", is to leave this marriage. There's a line right at the end that says, "this is how a whole life can be changed--by doing nothing." so it's like this freedom from not doing all the right things anymore, but so upsetting because I think they really could have helped each other if they just let those appearances down.

Leslie Marsha, I agree entirely. Although it's easy to want to blame Edward, it's ultimately very difficult to do so; he's very inexperienced and Florence is, in fact, viciously wounding once she switches to emotional self-defense mode. Since Edward is ignorant about key incidents in her life, he has no choice but to believe she means what she says. And again, her words at that point are toxic.

It's one of the things I like best about the way the book is crafted - the way McEwan uses point-of-view to make us acknowledge the decency of both characters, however indecently they may behave when confronted with the one situation with which they cannot cope. McEwan keeps the narrative voice in third person limited, so when we are given elements of Florence's story, we know no more than Florence does (thus the subtlety of the hints at sexual abuse ... she has no clear understanding of what happend, so neither do we); when we are given elements of Edward's story, we know no more than Edward does. There are a few brief scenes where McEwan opts for simple third person (describing their dinner, together, on their wedding night), but even then he tends to slip into the head of one character or the other.

It keeps us from being able to easily judge or blame either one; it keeps us rooting for both; it makes us aware of each character's humanity in a way that, to me, is incredibly real.

And in telling the story with this much compassion and nuance, McEwan avoids the narrative "red flags" that are the stock-in-trade of authors who take short cuts in moving the emotions of the reader. The man knows his craft.

message 35: by Ann D (new)

Ann D Fascinating discussion.

I graduated from high school in 1965, and even though the world was changing quickly, there was still was a tremendous amount of sexual ignorance out there, at least where I lived.

My Dad was a doctor and I remember that he and a psychologist friend were jointly treating more than one couple who were unable to consummate their marriage due to frigidity problems.

Florence's frigidity problems were so extreme, however, that I couldn't attribute them just to ignorance. When I read the book last summer, I latched onto the hints about incest as the only rational explanation. However, maybe there are asexual people out there who really find physical intimacy repellent. Could Florence have been one of them? What do you think?

The descriptions of sex in this book are not erotic and didn't bother me - except for the aforementioned one hair passage, which just did not ring true. I suppose McEwan put it in because he wanted to suggest that the wedding night debacle needn't have ended the whole relationship. There was at least this one suggestion that Florence was capable of being sexually aroused. The ending certainly points to the tragedy of lost possibilities.

And what do you all think would have happened if Edward had accepted Florence's proposal for a sexless marriage, with complete freedom on his part? I'm sure there have been plenty of examples of this in real life.

Leslie Oh, and I also agree with Steve and with Marsha that Florence is the "far more interesting character." Which is why I think it's such a fascinating choice, on McEwan's part, to give us a complete description of Edward's life after that night, but leave us with only a few glimpses of Florence's. It keeps both Edward and the reader at a wistful distance from a woman who remains fascinating but ultimately unknowable at the novel's end.

Leslie Oops! Didn't mean to ignore your comment, Ann; I guess we posted at the same time!

And I agree that the almost-erotic moment was significant. It hints at the healing that could have been in store for Florence had things progressed differently.

Barbara I thought that McEwan created an absolute gem here. There was almost nothing extra, much like a well-crafted short story. One of the crucial points was the difference between the early 60's and the late 60's. It was an amazing time, that a few short years could make such a difference. And, more important than the actual sex was the ability to talk about it. During the last 60's and then, particularly, in the 70's with the resurgence of feminism, women were encouraged to talk about what they were feeling. Florence and Edward lived in a time when you simply didn't talk about sex. Freud had let us all know that sex was important, but also that there were psychologically shameful things about it. There were supposed to be women who were "frigid" because of deep psychological inadequacies. Florence was tiptoeing on the edge of an abyss here.

However, as I said under Jim Heath's review, I think this was more about Florence than it was about the time. Edward might have reacted differently a decade later but I'm not convinced of that either.

It's been a while since I listened to the interview that Sherry mentioned on the audiobook of this. But, I think I remember that McEwan left the connection between the relationship with the father and Florence's difficulties open for us to question. Am I right about that, Sherry?

Sherry Yes, you are, Barb. I was waiting to say this, but I think now is a good time. McEwan edited out a part of the book that had Florence's father arrested and put in jail for molesting a 12-year-old girl on a sailboat. He figured that was too much information and the book would be stronger if he didn't give so much away. So, do you think he left in enough hints to give us real insight into Florence? And do you think it would have been more interesting if there had been no hints at all? If, like Steve suggests, we had no sexual misconduct to give Florence her psychological makeup? I wonder.

Dottie And what if those incestuous moments hinted at simply tipped a girl who would become a woman with less than what might be the normal interest in and response to sexual encounters over into the repressed, frigid, relatively asexual being which Florence seemed during this relationship with Edward?

message 41: by Stephen (last edited Feb 16, 2008 01:37PM) (new)

Stephen Well, I’ll be darned, Sherry! That’s interesting. I was ready to concede something happened, but not ready to concede the father deal. The boat memory does pretty much seal it though, doesn’t it? And my answer to your question is yes, Florence would have been more interesting without this. It’s too pat an explanation of her difficulties.

Summer, bless you for mentioning that one hair so that I did not have to.

Leslie, again you raise a point I thought important, that being the lack of information about Florence’s subsequent private life. I’m not saying that we ought to have more information. (Edward’s subsequent life reminds me of Rob from High Fidelity [Nick Hornby].) My point is that we never learn whether Florence was ultimately able to overcome this revulsion of hers or not. If she was not, then perhaps Edward’s regretful thought later in life that she only needed his love and patience was wrong. Edward’s own feckless later life may have been better after all than being in a marriage with Florence.

By the way, that’s exactly what this paternal sexual abuse thing does. It makes us more doubtful that Florence could ever have completely overcome this.

message 42: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim It's ironic that this period of alleged sexual ignorance is the period when The Golden Notebook is being published with its reflections on the quality of female sexual experience in the 50s. Apparently somebody knew how things worked even if they didn't publish the details until a little bit later.

Summer Russ, as a four time veteran of the OB experience, you know exactly what I am in the midst of, immersed in explicit description of all manner of gynecological occurrences. I merely picked out your comment from the group page to illustrate that I read it from a completely different perspective. There was nothing salacious to me about the topic or wording. It seemed very clinical and detached, but I tend to think in medical terms most of the time right now, so perhaps I’ve become a little desensitized toward norms. Your comment here that you have “grown out of sympathy for books where explicit sex is the crux of the plot” makes perfect sense to me. Authors choose themes for their own reasons. Certainly readers should seek the themes which appeal to them and avoid those that do not. Why waste your time reading something you don’t relish in any fashion or, worse yet, you find in poor taste?

Marsha, the fact that he did not immediately pursue her although he was knowledgeable of her reticence was extremely unloving. Perhaps, they share the night’s failure. Because it seems as if they both thought the wedding itself was going to repair her difficulties.

McEwan here and in Atonement has raised rather obscurely (and apparently in OCB intentionally not definitively according to Sherry’s comment) a subject few people like to discuss. I can’t speak to his motive, but it did strike me. I wonder if he was purposely vague to allow readers these lively discussions. Make the story stronger by generating more buzz?

Thank you for posting that, Sherry. It is interesting to know post-reading, but I am very glad he edited that passage out so I was free to observe these two as they would have allowed themselves to be seen.

No problem, Steve. I figured we all read it and it seemed significant to me. I tried to find a inoffensive way of mentioning it.

Marsha I haven't read Atonement, but saw the movie- hoping for a repeat performance from the director of the last Pride and Prejudice movie made, which I loved for reasons having a lot more to do with the direction and score than the writing. I was disappointed with the movie. I look forward to the book.

However Summer, I think that you make a good point that IM has a theme in a couple of stories here regarding the impact of child sexual abuse on families and individuals- but I'm hoping that his use of subtlety is more of a device to allow people to feel comfortable discussing the subject matter- or even to encourage discussion of the subject matter- rather than to up the price of the book or the number on the best seller list.

Maybe this is what a writer needs to do to make people pay attention to something they would much rather ignore- write up a juicy couple of hours about a could-have-been, should-have-been wedding night. Wrap it in the "death of sexual repression" back cover (talk about irony) and call it part of our gender history and changing social norms.

message 45: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 17, 2008 04:19AM) (new)

Summer, The briefest of thank-you's to say that you expressed my sentiments better than I could. Thank you for yor insight.

message 46: by Jane (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jane I am late to this discussion, but you have all made excellent points.

I picked up this novel, knowing nothing about it. When I started it, I tried to guess when it was taking place. At first, I thought it might be the 19th century, and then IM slowly gave us clues by mentioning the automobile and then the decade during which the sexual revolution happened. As a person who grew up in a small town in Indiana (high school class of 1965), I found the inexpert sex scene to be very believable. In my high school class, when a young lady was unfortunate enough to get pregnant, she was expelled, never to be seen again in our halls. This was the best advertisement for "No sex before marriage." Of course, the boy got to stay in school, but that is another subject.


I am in the camp of those who believe that the father sexually abused her. On p. 123 in the paperback edition: "Here came the past anyway, the indistinct past. It was the smell of the sea that summoned it. She was twelve years old, lying still like this, waiting, shivering in the narrow bunk with polished mahogany sides. Her mind was a blank, she felt she was in disgrace. After a two-day crossing, they were once more in the calm of Carteret harbor, south of Cherbourg. It was late in the evening, and her father was moving about the dim cramped cabin, undressing, like Edward now." Florence goes on to mention that she was sick many times when she was sailing with her father. There are other clues as well.


message 47: by Ruth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ruth All of that just went completely over my head, Jane. Never even crossed my mind. I wonder how I could have missed it.


message 48: by Stephen (last edited Feb 18, 2008 09:28AM) (new)

Stephen That is the "boat memory" that I was referring to in #42 above, Jane. Thanks for saving me the effort of finding it.

And yes, that passage is the one that seals the deal as to probable sexual abuse. I have to concede that.

Summer, I think it would have been better not to give us any clue at all as to the precise nature of Florence's difficulty--in other words, put us in Edward's shoes completely. Then more theories are arguable and hence, even more buzz.

message 49: by Ruth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ruth I dunno, Steve. As I said, that whole incident just sailed right over my head, so I was left exactly where you think it might be more interesting--no clue as to what was the matter with Florence.

It's that that led me to almost pooh pooh this book as hopelessly unaware of what went on in the late 50s early 60s.


message 50: by Jane (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jane Well, Ruth, you grew up in California. Things were different in small towns.


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