Author: Ian McEwan
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Publishing Date: 2007
Number of Pages: 203
Genre: General Fiction
It is July 1962. Florence is a talented musician who dreams of a career on the concert stage and of the perfect life she will create with Edward, an earnest young history student at University College of London, who unexpectedly wooed and won her heart. Newly married that morning, both virgins, Edward and Florence arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their worries about the wedding night to come. Edward, eager for rapture, frets over Florence’s response to his advances and nurses a private fear of failure, while Florence’s anxieties run deeper: she is overcome by sheer disgust at the idea of physical contact, but dreads disappointing her husband when they finally lie down together in the honeymoon suite.
Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach was his first work that I purchased through an online book seller. My curiosity was piqued because I keep encountering his works in numerous must-read lists. Unfortunately, I barely had any iota on he who is or what particular genre he writes about. I liked what I am read about him and his works, hence my purchase of this work. Unfortunately, it took me over two years before I got to read On Chesil Beach.
On Chesil Beach deals with a very sensitive, tricky and uncomfortable topic, one that even seasoned readers might find cringe-wrothy. In a little over two-hundred pages, it relates the first two ours of a newlyweds Florence and Edward’s honeymoon night. Alone in their hotel room, both Florence and Edward were helplessly awkward towards each other. They are both virgins and, unfortunately, both were unable to communicate how exactly they felt on their first night.
“All she had needed was the certainty of his love, and his reassurance that there was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them.” ~ Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach
At first, it is quite difficult trying to understand the book. At the first couple of pages, one can easily dismiss the subject as something as minute or insignificant as sexual dysfunctionality. Even McEwan convincingly stirred the narrative to that direction. The first part dragged on with its lackluster story, filled with mediocrity that it is a challenge to continue on with the book. However, if you opted to read on in spite of this apparent lack of direction, then you are in for a surprise.
This book goes to show how much of a genius a writer Ian McEwan really is.
The story was quite muddy at the onset but one gains perspectives as Florence’s and Edward’s individual stories are told through seamless flashbacks. This is where you get to appreciate McEwan’s ingenious writing style. Where most authors use flashbacks to bait readers into reading more, McEwan used it to make the story move forward. The book’s flashbacks are filled with nostalgia and puts a different light into the overall complexion of the story.
What stood out amongst the two characters are the glaring contrasts in their backgrounds and upbringings. Florence is a classical musician born with the proverbial silver spoon while Edward is a history graduate from a rural family home. Even their musical tastes are different! But these differences make their subtle similarities stand out. In spite of their glaring differences, the “mature” reader can easily relate to the ebb and flow of the emotions. McEwan’s bold and intimate depiction of the inner turmoil within both characters is on point.
What keeps the reader hooked into the story is how McEwan kept many things unsaid. As the story progresses, the biggest truths were obscured in simple passages. These truths creep into the reader’s subconscious only as he navigates the literary labyrinth that McEwan conjured. It is only through a slow and steady reading journey until the end will you realize these truths. And it is meant to be that way. The way the story was written is also reflective of the main flaw of the characters. They dwell in not letting the entire truth out.
“But it was too interesting, too new, too flattering, too deeply comforting to resist, it was a liberation to be in love and say so, and she could only let herself go deeper.” ~ Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach
Nostalgia in the story’s setting is neither overwhelming nor underwhelming. McEwan just had the right material in taking his readers through the motions. The story would be implausible nowadays and the main character’s virginity will immediately be placed under scrutiny. But the reader has to be reminder that the book is set in the 1960s. The story and the characters suited the period. In today’s world, we tend to be incredulous that such periods once existed.
At some points, On Chesil Beach was a drag. It was longer than it should have been. Nevertheless, it is a nostalgic read filled with introspection. It delights in its obscured subtleties. It relates a subject that makes one cringe but it was dealt it a very intimate yet bold manner. The ebb and flow of emotions can simply sweep one away into the depth of the story. The story blossoms in a way that some story don’t.
Recommended for readers looking for books doused in the depths of emotions, those who are interested in Ian McEwan’s works, those who are looking for short but deep reads, and those who like reading memories filled with poignancy.
Not recommended for impatient readers, readers who want to be in the thick of the action at the onset, and those who dislike stories that rely on flashbacks.
About the Author
(Photo by Wikipedia) Ian McEwan simply belongs to that small group of authors who rarely needs any introduction. You just let their works speak for them.
Born on June 21, 1948 in Aldershot, England, he spent his childhood in East Asia, Germany and North Africa and only returned to England when he was 12. He completed his degree in English literature in 1970 at the University of Sussex and undertook his master’s degree in literature at the University of East Anglia.
McEwan’s first published work is First Love, Last Rites (1975), which is a collection of short stories. This was followed by yet another short story collection, In Between the Sheets (1978). The Cement Garden (1978) and The Comfort of Strangers (1981) were his first published novels. Both books were adapted into films. In 1998, he won the Booker Prize for Amsterdam (1998). He also received acclaim for his novel Atonement (2001) which was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Atonement was also adapted into a widely acclaimed movie of the same title. His other works include Enduring Love (1997), Saturday (2005) and Solar (2010). Aside from being an accomplished novelist, McEwan is also a renowned screenwriter.