On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

I felt rather dirty reading the climatic chapter of McEwan’s upcoming book on the subway last night. This novella recounts Edward and Florence on their first night together as man and wife in 1962. You might have read the first chapterin the New Yorker’s Fiction issue. It’s an odd, intimate book. McEwan carefully dissects this couples’ relationship. He goes almost minute by minute through their awkward honeymoon dinner to the bedroom and the aftermath. Woven into this narrative are flashbacks that help illustrate the complexities of the relationship.
What’s lovely about this novel is the way in which McEwan describes all of these details, letting the reader infer how the characters feel about one another. He also lets you see the class differences between Edward and Florence without it seeming like he’s deliberately pointing them out. At Florence’s family house, Edward is assigned what the family calls the “small room”. “The ‘small room’ was larger than any of the bedrooms at the Turville Heath cottage, and possibly larger than the its sitting room.” It’s too early for the sexual liberation to have reached them. The sexual oppression reaks havoc with their relationship in ways that they can’t even communicate. We the reader understand what each is feeling but they don’t have any idea or have the capability to talk about their nervousness. Edward worries about “arriving to soon” while Florence fears the whole act of sex. She’s even repulsed by French Kissing. Both believe that their love for one another can protect them. What’s remarkable about this book is that McEwan can paint such a wonderful portrait in such a short space. This book might be 176 pages, but it’s a smaller format hardcover—4 1/2″ x 7 1/4″. It’s truly a superb work.

4 thoughts on “On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

  1. Brian Hadd

    That’s good that McEwan is focusing on the intimate aspects of marraige. Too much of Atonement was about sex while trying not to be about sex. Briony was introduced into this world by her sister, and she ruined it–having her write the book was a leap for me. More so because so few people agreed I think.

    The Hood Company


  2. Hila Babin

    I have read all of his books and found each so different, its refreshing to see and author venture out and try every kind of topic and style. I frankly didn’t care for the black humor of” Amsterdam” however you must give him credit for his writing style. I myself am ordering his new book in advance and have read and excerpt . I am just fascinated by McEwan and find him one of the best contemporary literary writers around.


  3. Dan

    I don’t think you can say thay each has a different topic and style. Look at Enduring Love, and Saturday, for example. I will probably buy this new book, but i think McEwan is overrated slightly. Edward and Florence…..seriously….


  4. Brian Lemin


    It was great to find your comment on McEwan. If you would care to email me I have some stuff for your collection

    Brian Lemin


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