This short book is a sensitive exploration of the consequences of thoughts not spoken and actions that are misunderstood. The fears and uncertainties at the centre of the novella might seem incomprehensible to younger readers, although deep down they may be as prevalent today as they were in the '50s and '60s.
As with all good short stories, the book is a snapshot of a few hours in the lives of its main characters, Florence and Edward. interspersed with flashbacks into their pasts, and how they met and fell in love. The writer alternates between viewpoints, so that the reader is privy to the build-up of misinterpretations that leads inexorably to the denouement. Such is Ian McEwan's skill as a writer that, despite so short an acquaintance with the young lovers, I really felt for them, and longed for something to release them from their tongue-tied misery and guide them to a happier conclusion.
McEwan is a master of the English language. His prose flows through the feelings and uncertainties of his characters, capturing every nuance of sensitivity. My only criticism is the last chapter. The book would perhaps have been stronger if the ending had been left in the air. The frenetic rush through another forty years left a feeling of breathlessness, although it did serve to underline the futility and waste that was all too avoidable - the hints and opportunities were there, but Florence and Edward were too young and naïve to realise their importance or the implications of ignoring them.
What remains after finishing the book is a sense of sadness and loss, but this is no deterrent to reading it. I loved it. Buy it and see what you think. Just don't expect a punchy story. Instead be prepared for a feast of sensitivities and emotions.