On Chesil Beach : [a novel]

by Ian McEwan

Paper Book, 2007

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, c2007.

Description

The story centers around two newlyweds, Edward and Florence Mayhew both virgins who must struggle through their internal battles with sexual anxiety.

Media reviews

On Chesil Beach is brief and carefully plotted, the writing is measured, the tone of voice is forgiving and nostalgic. In other words, it is a fine example of emotion recollected in tranquillity. Even so, I couldn't help regretting the fun McEwan might have had with these sad fumbling innocents when he was younger, less mellow, and a great deal less forbearing.
2 more
After two big, ambitious novels — “Atonement” and “Saturday” — Ian McEwan has inexplicably produced a small, sullen, unsatisfying story that possesses none of those earlier books’ emotional wisdom, narrative scope or lovely specificity of detail.
Sans fard, Ian McEwan décrit cette jeunesse encore prisonnière de ses convenances, méconnaissant tout des relations sexuelles et de la vie de couple, mariés seulement après quelques flirts pudiques. Cette première nuit d'intimité détermine leur vie entière, leur engagement alors définitif.

User reviews

LibraryThing member davidabrams
Some writers work on large canvases—wide, sprawling Dickensian landscapes which cover decades in the stride of less than ten pages—while others have mastered the miniature. In his newest book, On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan has taken the narrow-scope novel to its pointiest tip. On Chesil Beach covers eight hours in the lives of just-married Edward and Florence Mayhew as they sit in their honeymoon suite on the English coast and contemplate the night to come.

The entire plot boils down to two simple questions: Will they or won't they have sex; and, if they do, will it destroy their relationship? I can't remember the last time the mere promise of sex had me as close to the edge of my seat as did On Chesil Beach. McEwan teases us along for 130 pages as tension and suspense build. I could not turn the pages fast enough as I watched Edward and Florence pick at their cooling dinner meal, speak to each other in fits and starts, struggle with an uncooperative dress zipper, and dart their tongues into each other's mouths during a suffocating French kiss. Sex is the hoped-for happy ending, yet we suspect those hopes might be dashed like a cold-water wave against the rocky beach just outside their hotel window.

McEwan is a genius at making us care about, and fully understand, his characters in as short and tight a space as possible. There is not a wasted word here as he relentlessly drives us forward and deeper into Edward and Florence, two 22-year-olds fumbling their way toward sex. You'd have to go as far back as Henry James to find another writer who so confidently explores the complexities of human behavior and the sharp divisions of class. McEwan goes James one better by delivering prose that is lighter and less ponderous.

What elevates On Chesil Beach from any other book you're likely to read this year is the brilliant way McEwan takes us inside Edward and Florence with just a subtle shift from one sentence to the next. We barely notice when we go from a bridegroom unknotting his tie to the moment, years earlier, when he learned a startling truth about his mother. We move between Edward and Florence like invisible, uninvited guests, privy to their dark tangle of fears and desires.

And oh what fears and desires there are. Though she loves Edward, Florence is petrified at the thought of sex, the sloppy physical act which is practically guaranteed to hurt and mortify. Early in the novel, we learn she is feeling "a visceral dread, a helpless disgust as palpable as seasickness." Edward, on the other hand, is brimful with sexual desire after having sworn off masturbation for the week prior to the wedding ("He wanted to be in top form for his bride"). He is ready to consummate but he remains blinded to Florence's psychological agony. Edward's selfish myopia and Florence's reluctance to forthrightly express herself to him form the molten lava core of the novel. If these characters ever once had an honest conversation, On Chesil Beach would not be half as interesting.

The novel starts off on a happy note ("they had so many plans, giddy plans, heaped up before them in the misty future"), but it isn't long before we're seeing troublesome cracks in the relationship as they walk a tightrope across a chasm of sex. During their courtship, Florence has only allowed Edward limited access to the mysteries of her body. By slow degrees, he first sees her naked breasts in October, touches them in December (on December 19, to be exact), then finally kisses them in February ("though not her nipples, which he grazed with his lips once, in May"). Florence, on the other hand, "allowed herself to advance across his own body with even greater caution."

It's no coincidence that On Chesil Beach is set in 1962, on the eve of the sexual revolution and the same year Helen Gurley Brown published Sex and the Single Girl. The Beatles, Woodstock and "free love" can be seen on the horizon, but for now, Edward and Florence are constricted by the times in which they live. Even when they're alone, "a thousand unacknowledged rules still applied" as they enter adulthood with equal parts dread and longing.

McEwan knows how to get maximum mileage out of imagery. The novel has scarcely begun when we come across this sentence: "In the next room, visible through the open door, was a four-poster bed, rather narrow, whose bedcover was pure white and stretched startlingly smooth, as though by no human hand." Someday, a graduate student will devote an entire thesis to deconstructing that single sentence with its narrow bed and its virgin-white sheets. Even the meal the couple eats is freighted with symbolism as they each dig in to a slice of melon "decorated by a single glazed cherry."

This is a landmark novel which can be read quickly, but is certain to be slowly savored long after the last page is turned.

Don't let the size of On Chesil Beach fool you. This is literature that expands with each paragraph. By the end of its 200 pages, McEwan has fully embraced the wide, harsh landscape of love, telling us more about his characters (and ourselves) than we ever thought possible in such short space.
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LibraryThing member Michael_Godfrey
Review of Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach. Various editions (first published by Jonathan Cape 2007; edition used and referenced here is London: Vintage, 2008).

Ah, the human condition. The destruction of the Tower of Babel buggered up human hubris by screwing up our ability to communicate. While languages are the primary form of communication in the minds of the ancient biblical storytellers, are not sex and music two languages that are not only universal but universally flawed? Both play a part in this novella. Both are flawed, two human beings divided by tongues unshared (all puns intended). Mozart meet Mayall (or Holly). Phallus meet yonni. It’s all a bit of a to do, really.

If we’re old enough to have shagged we’re probably able to remember those first inarticulate fumblings of the wordless art. Or maybe it’s just me, but oh dear goddess, how little was communicated, how little achieved, how great (but not as great as sometimes seems the case) the damage.

Florence and Edward, fumbling virgins (as apparently many were on their wedding nights in 1962 in England). But the wedding night aspect, while it adds gravitas to their terrible conundrum, is only a worsening of the human state. First nights, first days, first fumblings whether in the back (or front, even) of a hatchback or a weighty, solemn four poster bed. So fraught. Snickering waiters don’t altogether add to the sense of romantic ease, nor do the imagined memories of the bed itself which has experienced a myriad fumblings over the decades and centuries. No pressure or anything.

Yet McEwan is or is not entirely writing about first fumblings of self-conscious virgins. McEwan is writing about humans and communication. And, and here I guess I can avoid all spoilers, he does it by segueing seamlessly between two minds at crisis point, over and over again, a slice of life lasting eight hours and a lifetime, until the crisis is over and I am bereft because the book has ended.
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LibraryThing member gbill
I loved this book for its crisp, singular focus, and for its insights into the the very different perspectives a man and a woman can have about love and sex. It rang as true for me throughout. I also loved the perspective that came with time in the final chapter, and the illustration that lives change dramatically in single critical instants of action or non-action. Sentimental but in a haunting, beautiful way.

"Occasionally, he would come to a forking of the paths deep in a beech wood and idly think that this was where she must have paused to consult her map that morning in August, and he would imagine her vividly, only a few feet and forty years away, intent on finding him. Or he would pause by a view over the Stonor Valley and wonder whether this was where she stopped to eat her orange. At last he could admit to himself that he had never met anyone he loved so much..."
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LibraryThing member eleanor_eader
I was unprepared for the emotional impact of this book. That’s largely because Atonement was the most singularly depressing read of 2009 and I had little expectation of this, given the tight focus and subject matter, being anything other than miserably boring. Somehow, I still cling to my belief in my ability to judge a book before I’ve read it. Luckily, it’s never a bad thing to be proven wrong.

It is miserable, but it’s far from boring. The misconceptions and unspoken barriers between the couple sharing a honeymoon encounter are compelling, sweet, sad. Their back-story, told in flashbacks, shows the reader both how the avoided issue grows to the point where it addressing it causes devastation, and also that the pair were that human mixture of wonderfully compatible and yet with just the wrong combination of flaws… without that connection, the reader would hardly care if either of them ever saw the other again. McEwan manages to cause the reader frustration that we simply cannot reach into the pages and fix things.

It’s not a happy story, but it’s beautiful in places, especially the musical passages and descriptions of the pair, each through the others eyes, and worth reading. I’m still not the author’s biggest fan, but I appreciate what he’s done here On Chesil Beach.
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LibraryThing member Miss-Owl
I hadn't heard great things about this book but I really liked it. The way McEwan is able to unravel a whole history from just a single moment in time is fascinating - I always get the sense that his characters come, fully formed, to the page, and that they have a life that is lived behind and beyond it.

Not having been alive in the particular decade of the setting - the events take place in 1962 - I must say I'm at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to assessing the authenticity of the era. It certainly didn't match up with my idea of the sixties (although that, I suppose, is part of McEwan's point). But I did really like the motif of Chesil Beach - it reminds me of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach", one of my favourite poems. And, like the other McEwan books I have read and loved, it just leaves me thinking - of moments, and memories, and the hindsight with which, unwittingly, we realise just which of the fallible, fleeting decisions we have made in life are the most important.… (more)
LibraryThing member cestovatela
On Chesil Beach is the story of the wedding night of Florence and Edward, both of whom are virgins. They marry in 1962, only a few years before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Over the course of an uncomfortable dinner, both contemplate their fears of the night to come. Edward is anxious for the opportunity to "become a man" but struggles with performance anxiety and the possibility of "arriving too soon." Florence, on the other hand, knows very little about sex and is revolted by the bits of information she's gleaned from a wedding night instructional manual for new brides. Although the couple love each other very deeply, both are products of rigidly proper post-war British society and neither is capable of broaching the topic with the other. The narrative skips back and forth in time, describing Florence and Edward's chilhoods and courtship and leaving no doubt that this young couple is meant to be together. With each chapter, suspense builds: will they or won't they? will this night strengthen their relationship or destroy it?

Ian McEwan is a masterful writer. Like Virginia Woolf, he creates rich and plausible interior monologues for each of his characters. Like Ernest Hemingway, his dispassionate, detached prose forces us to see each character exactly as they are, filled with both triumphs and faults. I occasionally wished that he wouldn't spell out everything that each character is thinking because I find books most rewarding when a little is left to the imagination. On the other hand, by relating each character's thoughts so clearly, he shows us exactly how they have been shaped by the time period in which they have been raised. What I appreciated most about this story is that at works on two levels: first, it is an ordinary, human, character-driven story about the lives of two ordinary people; second, it is a work of historical fiction that uses the lives of its characters to tell the story of a whole country on the verge of change. Whether you love it or hate it, I guarantee this novel will leave you with something to think about.
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LibraryThing member VivienneR
This story of a young couple on their wedding night is one of McEwan's best, or the best I've read so far by the author. It is astonishing just how McEwan can get inside the head of a woman. He is spectacularly successful in capturing the mid-century society and conventions just as the sixties are about to bring changes to many facets of life. This is especially worthy of note because the time frame is a few years ahead of McEwan's own youth. Every word of this story is captivating.… (more)
LibraryThing member norabelle414
Definitely original. I've never really thought about what was going on in England after WWII, but this book makes it sound very awkward. Very, very awkward, in the way that real life is awkward. I could easily see it being the imagination of some poor virgin teenager, dreading what their life will be like if they never have sex. Short, interesting, and easy to get through (though not without a twinge of vicarious embarrassment). And did I mention awkward?… (more)
LibraryThing member karieh
Before starting this review - I skimmed a few other reviews of "On Chesil Beach". It's a rare moment when I do not have a strong opinion on a book - but this is one of those times.

I've always enjoyed McEwan's books - though I wouldn't go as far as to say that I loved any one of them (although I am still determined to reread "Atonement" again now that I've read the ending). But this one...this one...

This book hinges on on small but hugely pivotal moment in the lives of two people. McEwan develops the characters well and gives the reader enough information to prepare us for and involve us in that moment. The reader is there, along with Florence and Edward, on their wedding night, knowing, as they do, that something monumental is going to happen, yet unsure just what that might be. The tension mounts, the anticipation increases...

Following the turning point of the book - we are only given the point of view of Edward. With only a few token references to Florence - the book is then a one-sided affair - leaving the reader with MANY unanswered questions... "What happened THEN?" being my major one.

In today's world of much too much information about sex and relationships - the inability of Florence and Edward to talk about sex seems almost unreal. In many ways - McEwan conveys the idea that in those times, for these characters - "There were no words". Though I was not there to experience the world before the sexual revolution - this book seems to give a good representation of it. The unspoken feelings, questions, desires...the terror and mystery... The reader can feel the tension between the characters, smell the poorly cooked food, hear the creak of the honeymoon suite bed...so many vividly drawn details...until it was time for the details I really wanted.

I am a sucker for the "what if?" aspect of books...and with this one - I was disappointed.

Doesn't mean I won't be early in line to pick up his next book, though...
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LibraryThing member bragan
Florence and Edward are newly married and very much in love. They are also both virgins, and both nervous about their wedding night. Edward is merely suffering a bit of performance anxiety, but Florence's problems go much deeper; she finds the whole idea of sex frightening and repellent. Unfortunately, this is the early 60s, in a world trembling on the cusp of a sexual revolution that hasn't quite happened yet, and neither of them have any sense of how to even begin talking about their difficulties or desires.

It's a very simple story, really, one which shows us a few hours of the wedding night interspersed with the history of their lives and their relationship, as well as a certain amount of self-aware commentary on the differences between their era and the one that was soon to replace it -- all of which works much better than you might expect it to. It's also a short, surprisingly quick read, I think mostly because there's a horrible fascination to it that keeps you -- or at least kept me -- helplessly turning pages. Like watching a slow-motion trainwreck that you know should be entirely preventable, but is probably going to happen anyway. It's all quite painfully believable, in a thoughtful, melancholy sort of way.
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LibraryThing member bibliobibuli
One might think that Ian McEwan is treading on slightly dangerous ground in his new novella, On Chesil Beach, having chosen for himself a scenario which for British readers (at least) will bring to mind smutty seaside postcards and sniggered blue jokes: a young couple on honeymoon find themselves unable to consummate their marriage. Instead, he presents us with a heartbreaking tale of misunderstanding and lost love.

It’s the early 1960’s, a few years before the so-called “sexual revolution” and the advent of The Pill and the accompanying shift in moral attitudes. Girls are still expected to “keep themselves” for a future husband and nice girls don’t “go all the way”. Edward and Florence are pretty typical of their time: they come to their wedding night with no sexual experience.

Both are anticipating the now officially sanctioned act of sexual intercourse with trepidation. Edward worries about how the act might be achieved “without absurdity or disappointment” and is afraid of (as he quaintly puts it) "arriving too soon" while Florence has a dread of sex which she sees as a physical violation.

To make matters worse, she has been further put off by a sex manual she has read in lieu of being able to have an intimate conversation with the women in her life. Despite its “cheery tones and exclamation marks and numbered illustrations” the book is written in a formal sexual vocabulary that almost makes her gag in places. She though realizes that she has signed all rights in the gloomy sacristy after the wedding ceremony and prepares resignedly to meet her fate.

McEwan fills in the story of the couple’s path to the altar in flashbacks, and draws each as a convincing individual. Florence is a talented violinist studying who dreams of performing with her string quartet at the hallowed Wigmore Hall. Edward is studying history at University College and wants to write biographies. Both are idealists who actively support CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) and in fact meet when he encounters her handing out leaflets in Oxford. The later tragedy is compounded by the fact that this is a couple already very much in love. They are physically and intellectually well-matched, have already negotiated many of the practical difficulties which might have separated them and ought to have a bright future ahead of them.

But it all falls apart on their first night together. Marked by clumsiness, down-right ignorance and an inability to communicate with each other about their feelings, their fumbling attempts at intercourse are indeed every bit as disastrous as both feared.

In a moment of disgust and blind panic, Florence rushes out of the room and along the beach where Andrew catches up with her. Injured pride stands in the way of any real communication, and the conversation has life long repercussions for both.

How ironic it is that in the larger scheme of things their lives are destroyed – not by an atom bomb (as both feared) or by the whims of a dictator (of the sort that Edward is researching) but because of words left unsaid.
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LibraryThing member fraxi
This is such a very sad book. It's a keenly observed book about marriage and virginity in 1962. You just know it will finish tragically, and when it does end, it will overwhelm you. Read it.Read it. Read it.
LibraryThing member msbaba
On Chesil Beach by Booker Prize winning author Ian McEwan is a masterpiece—one of those rare books that keeps getting better the more the reader thinks about it and studies how it was crafted to achieve its overall stunning effect. The book is set in a few brief hours—actually one late afternoon and evening—in or near a hotel room on Chesil Beach in the south of England. It is a honeymoon and both the husband and the wife are virgins. Through seamless transitions to flashbacks, McEwan artfully weaves in just enough background information so that we feel we know and understand these vulnerable and fragile young 22-year-olds. They are truly in love, but they are on a collision course to disaster.

I disagree with many of the other reviewers here on LibraryThing who believe that this couple’s wedding night disaster is partially or wholly caused by the period in which the novel is set—a time just before the sexual revolution of the mid-1960s. The message of this work is clearly not one of criticism for the sexual mores of any particular historical period. What happens to this young couple could happen at any time, in any culture—even today when sex is matter-of-fact, and in-your-face, everywhere, all the time.

The message of this novel is a lovingly crafted lament. It is about the appalling lack of communication that can exist all too easily between people who truly love each other, and how this silence about essential matters of the heart can rise up like an erupting volcano and suffocate even the most promising relationship. Miscommunication is at the heart of nearly all breakups, be they between lovers, spouses, friends, or family members. McEwen takes one all-important miscommunication on a wedding night and shows how it can ruin lives. He puts a spotlight on the road not taken, and challenges us to rethink how it might have been otherwise.

I am awed by this book. McEwan is a master, a compelling and powerful storyteller, with an all-important message to convey. Read this novel; hear this lament; sing it silently in your mind’s ear whenever you are tempted to strike back in anger at some wrong you think was unmistakably meant directly to harm you. Think again. Grow up. It’s not about you! Loved ones generally act first and foremost out of their own self-interest, not out of any kind of desire to hurt the beloved. Realize that there is probably a significant miscommunication at the root of the problem and find out what it is before you act too hastily and with anger. Let the heartfelt lament of this book fuse itself to your being. Maybe this book will help you save an important relationship from failure, help you avoid your next—and perhaps most regrettable—road not taken.
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LibraryThing member JohnWhitelaw
Almost as good as Atonement. I wept at the end.
LibraryThing member joellalibrarything
I read this all in one go and then had a big cry.
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
Audiobook...................Wonderful piece of literature. An intimate psychological view into the minds and hearts and childhoods of two people who have been married for a few hours and are both virgins. A shocking insight into the assumptions we make about one another and the reasons we make them. This is an intense and engaging novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member Smiler69
This book, which I read in 2009 was my introduction to Ian McEwan. I had no expectations when I started reading this story and was at first charmed by how beautifully McEwan writes. I knew it was about a young couple, Florence and Edward, on their wedding night in the early 60's, both at grips with their unspoken anxieties in regard to the consummation of their marriage. I found it interesting that McEwan continually pointed out how different mentalities were before the sexual revolution—something we might easily forget nowadays when seemingly “anything goes”. Also of interest to me was the fact that McEwan delved into descriptions of intimate physical acts in great detail, almost clinically, rendering the topic of sex completely devoid of sensuality, making it sound grotesque even, which I thought conveyed perfectly how Florence must have felt about it all along, and also illustrated the great chasm between the newlyweds well before they had tied the knot. I found the ending disappointing and seemingly thrown together, wishing we hadn’t been told about any happenings beyond that wedding night. It would have been best for McEwan to leave it up to the reader to decide what course their lives might have taken on after that night.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jargoneer
Upon finishing this short novel I couldn't help thinking, did I miss something?

I found myself looking for viable subtexts. For example, the year 1962 must be a reference to Larkin - do Florence (classical music, upper middle-class, frigidity) and Edward (blues, lower middle-class, sexual desire) represent the past and future of the UK as of that date? Why Chesil Beach? A reflection of 'elemental' forces, or that a beach is traditionally romantic, walking hand-in-hand, but Chesil beach is hard and stony and difficult to traverse. If this wasn't by Ian McEwan, leading British novelist, would I have been looking so hard for something beneath the plot - perhaps sometimes a story is just a story.

The majority of the book relates the courtship of Edward and Florence, and the build-up to their wedding night. For the most part, it is successful in capturing the young romance, and portraying the character's sexual anxieties and fears (admittedly, probably better when dealing from the male perspective). Some of the minor details such as the wedding meal at a third-rate hotel are excellent - accurate and funny.

The problems arise, in more ways than one, in the wedding night's sexual encounter, and it's aftermath. I found myself amused with the former, and disbelieving of the latter - the forces that pushed young people into marriage in 1962 tended to keep them in that marriage as well. It is easier to enter a prison than it is to break out of one. The breakdown of communication between the characters was so extreme that they stopped being believable and became marionettes.

The final section, which details the later lives of the two characters, struck me as completely unnecessary - any poignancy in previous events was instantly undermined by a cheap sentimentality, and by excluding the reader from imagining possible futures. By cutting this section, and tightening the other sections, McEwan could have produced a first class short story/novella.

Overall, well-written but essentially slight tale that dissipates much of it's effectiveness towards the end of the narrative.

ps...every time I think of this book I end up with the title ringing through my head to the tune of Echo Beach by Martha & the Muffins.
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LibraryThing member shootingstarr7
On Chesil Beach tells the story of Edward and Florence on the night of their wedding. The novel has some flashbacks to their courtship, but mostly takes place in one night. The novel shows the point of view of them both prior to the marriage and on the wedding night, but following the climactic scene on Chesil Beach, we do not see what happens from Florence's perspective, only Edward's. I found myself frustrated by that, though I think I know what McEwan was trying to accomplish. On the whole, I very much enjoyed this book, and would not hesitate to recommend it to others.… (more)
LibraryThing member anitatally
My favorite so far of Ian McEwan's books. He is an amazing writer and has great insight into the human condition.
LibraryThing member AlisonY
This is my second Ian McEwan book (The Cement Garden was my first), and he's definitely now up there as one of my favourite authors. He has such tremendous skill in taking a short snapshot of time and delicately describing the horrors that can unfold from the most ordinary of beginnings, happenings which go on to change the course of an individual's life.

The main story of On Chesil Beach revolves around a young couple on their wedding night, and how a failure to do or say the right thing in a single moment can change your life forever. To say much more than that would require a spoiler alert.

McEwan's prose is so quietly and beautifully honest, his characters are within touching distance.

Devour it in no more than a few days - be touched by it for a lifetime.
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LibraryThing member varwenea
4 Stars for the book + 0.5 Stars for how I related to it.

Captivating and sensual, yet so painful and disheartening, this concise writing outlining the relationship of a young couple hits hard on several targets. The differences of how men and women may approach sex. The imbalance in a relationship where someone is always pushing for more. Words said or unsaid, actions taken or not, can completely alter the course of a person’s life. Two people in love can hurt each other so deeply. Time provides clarity. My chest ached, relating to much of this.

Edward and Florence, a young couple who met by chance, immediately drew to each other. Over 5 parts in the book, starting with their wedding night dinner, we learn about their past, their families, their ambitions, and their future. But the key is their wedding night, when so much is truly learned of each other for the first time, much that should have been learned earlier. Discover their trepidations, anxieties, and anticipations. While some of these are related to sex (very well written), the underlining message is simply the relationship between two people. You sense a train wreck coming, but you hope for the best anyway. Can’t two people so in love spend time with each other, work it through, talk over their differences, and identify a workable compromise? Excellent book.

Some quotes:
Her intense fear and disgust of sex. While extreme, it’s oddly relatable as ‘penetration’ is very, well, personal.
“Her problem, she thought, was greater, deeper, than straightforward physical disgust; her whole being was in revolt against a prospect of entanglement and flesh; her composure and essential happiness were about to be violated. She simply did not want to be ‘entered’ or ‘penetrated’. Sex with Edward could not be the summation of her joy, but was the price she must pay for it.”

Edward on Masturbation:
“The goal was release – from urgent, thought-confining desire for what could not be immediately had. How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.”

Florence on Old Age:
“She revered the ancient types, who took minutes to emerge from their taxis, the last of the Victorians, hobbling on their canes to their seats, to listen in alert critical silence, sometimes with the tartan rug they had brought draped across their knees. These fossils, with their knobby shrunken skulls tipped humbly toward the stage, represented to Florence burnished experience and wise judgment, or suggest a musical expertise that arthritic fingers could no longer serve.”

Pushing for more. (My mistake in life)
Florence to Edward: “You’re always pushing me, pushing me, wanting something out of me. We can never just be. We can never just be happy. There’s this constant pressure. There’s always something more that you want out of me. This endless wheedling.”

Time provides clarity:
"Occasionally, he would come to a forking of the paths deep in a beech wood and idly think that this was where she must have paused to consult her map that morning in August, and he would imagine her vividly, only a few feet and forty years away, intent on finding him. Or he would pause by a view over the Stonor Valley and wonder whether this was where she stopped to eat her orange. At last he could admit to himself that he had never met anyone he loved so much..."
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LibraryThing member jchristophersilvia
McEwan's mastery of detail is absolutely evident in this pain-laced story of a relationship in the early 60s in London and Oxford. The characters, from within whom the story is told, torture themselves endlessly with small insecurities, and unanswerable life questions that demand immediate answers. Most interestingly, this book, and indeed the tale told within it, build mercilessly toward a single, essential instant, and the fate of everything, it would seem, is wrapped up in that singular experience. It has been said--especially with regard to this book--that McEwan is quite the master of climax-centered fiction.

I did at times find his unfolding of details somewhat serpentine, and at points jarring. There are a number of moments within the text in which we find ourselves in what is ostensibly the present, with an circuitous exploration of the emotional and physical condition of the characters. Their own thoughts scatter throughout proceedings, as thoughts do, and very little detail or movement is seen in these moments of revelation. Then, just when we are approaching a meaningful turning point, McEwan hurtles us years into the past for contextual exposition. Although his withholding of detail is generally less "aching" (by which I mean cheeky) than the deliberate meandering in, say, Nicholson Baker's "Mezzanine," the slow roll of momentum within "On Chesil Beach" mirrors nicely the development of the relationship described within its pages.

I very much enjoyed reading this book and look forward to exploring McEwan's body of work in more depth.
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LibraryThing member bookworm_17
I was disappointed with this book. It was uncomfortable, which I guess was the aim but I didn't enjoy it. At the end I was left thinking 'so what?'...
LibraryThing member Cecilturtle
This short book is a wonderful glimpse into couple relationships, the misunderstandings, the compromises, the patterns in communication. If anything it is too close to reality and may make the reader uncomfortable from the unveiling of such intimate emotions. A real gem.

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