Set in 1962, this is the description of the wedding night of two young twenty-somethings, Edward and Florence. Set before the sexual revolution really got going later in the 60s, this young couple have come to their wedding night inexperienced and unsure, both of themselves and of what to expect from each other. Sex before marriage and open discussion of sex, although not unheard of, were still somewhat taboo at the time, and marriage still seen as the main rite of passage into adulthood. Both have arrived at the event with their separate fears, concerns and preconceived ideas of what will take place between them. McEwan masterfully conveys a pressure and tension between the characters and bravely, gradually describes the scene that unfolds in the honeymoon suite of a hotel on the Dorset coast.
McEwan describes a deep love between the two characters, who have met, courted and fallen in love, but shown great restraint in their courtship of each other - Edward from respect for his bride-to-be and Florence from a deep-seated horror of the physicality of a relationship. He intersperses amongst his narrative of the scene in the hotel room, the background for the relationship between the two, building up a tension of misunderstanding - how little these two really understand each other's physical needs; how little they have spoken to each other about sex, and yet how compatible they are in nearly every other way.
This is a brave and sensitive exploration of the subject, still as topical in many cultures today, as it was for Florence and Edward more than 40 years ago. There is a moral to the tale, typical of most novellas. It's not the sort of book to pick up when you're looking for a gripping read, but it is a thought-provoking book to be appreciated for its style, and portrayal of a difficult subject. Sadly, McEwan really lets down the whole piece with a rushed ending. Rushing through the last 40 years of his characters lives is in itself okay - the story needs this to reach a full understanding of what was at stake that night in 1962 - but what is really unforgivable is his mention of the influence of Internet shopping on Edward's businesses in the late 1970s/early 80s. What a faux pas, considering Internet usage itself didn't take off until the late 90s and Internet shopping has only relatively recently had a major impact on off-line retailers. If the book had been better finished it would have had a tentative 5 stars from me, in appreciation of its originality.