2007: 156. On Chesil Beach

“They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.”

On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan

This is a little gem of a novel - really more novella than novel - that tells a simple story of two people who try to connect, and want to connect, and cannot quite do it, because their circumstances (socially and historically) and their personalities won’t allow them.  It is a tragedy, without bells and whistles, and it is absolutely credible.  I hadn’t read much else McEwan (like so many others, the end of Atonement drove me batty and kept me away) and, reading the review of On Chesil Beach in the New York Review of Books did not really pique my interest*, but I found it be impressively true in its characters and emotions and quite enjoyed it.


The book centers around Edward and Florence, who are celebrating their wedding night on Chesil Beach.  The whole problem of the novel is captured in the sentence quoted above - Edward is head over heels in love with Florence, and has been eagerly awaiting this moment.  Florence is in love too, but is uninterested, indeed petrified and repulsed by the notion of sex (there is a suggestion that perhaps her father has molested her, though its not clear).  She knows that this will be a problem - he knows, if he is honest with himself that she is not interested, but they can’t talk about it, and it all comes to a head that night.  I was concerned, a bit when reading, that Florence was getting the bum rap - she is the one with the problem, after all, but I was pleasantly surprised at the end on this front.  Both parties are treated fairly, and proportionally, and the novel goes on to an inevitable conclusion.  I always like books that capture little slices of human emotional life, and this fits in that category like a glove.


Recommended for:  People who want to read about what human emotional  (and sexual) lives were like before the sexual revolution made us free(er); people who want to think about what makes relationships (even now) work or succeed.


* The review made the book sound so, so bleak, which it is not (it is sad, but not bleak).  Why did I read it at all? There aren’t a lot of books in our bookmobile, and our library burned down!


Date/Place Completed: 10/11/07; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction; Library Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017