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3.7 out of 5 stars
On Chesil Beach
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
On Chesil Beach is the first Ian McEwan book I've read. In it he describes a newly married couple's relationship and their struggle to culminate their wedding vows. McEwan maps their relationship up to their marriage: how their intimacy evolved, how they came to love each other, how personal taboos result in their inevitable repulsion.

Mostly, McEwan's prose is direct: it cuts you, sews you back up, then slices the sutures to expose the wound. Occasionally though his attempts to re-slice don't succeed - you get the sense a medical intern is fumbling with your wound and bungling the job, rather than having a doctor performing exact surgery.

I am thankful the book is short. I think it could have been shorter. McEwan, though developing the characters a bit, does not develop Flo and Ed as fully as I would have expected from a novel. If he intended to write spare prose, to be cutting, then this book could have been a lengthy short story in a collection, rather than a short novel. That said, I still enjoyed it and don't lament having read it as some reviewers did.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 18 January 2013
I adored this book. I read it maybe five years ago so I can't write about it in any detail other than to say it was wonderful - a glimpse of a bygone age, with beautiful characterisation which shows the effect of innocence and repression not so far removed from my youth that I can't identify with the agonies this couple shared. A measured, deep, intense love story that was very moving.
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86 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on 17 March 2008
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.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 13 February 2008
McEwan handles this tragic, doomed love affair beautifully: the awkwardness; the rapture; the misunderstanding; the fumbling; the devotion. Yet the final coda, telescoping 'the rest of their life' into seven pages, seems almost to be notes for a longer work that the author decided not to complete.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 March 2015
It's true what they say, beautiful things do come in small packages. 'On Chesil Beach' is an exquisite little work of art of many layers. Unlike other readers, I am perfectly content with its size (easier to force on my students, they invariably grumble at the sight of large books!) Yes, the final pages do go on for a bit and seem disjointed from the rest (and scope) of the story, until the very, very end when we finally get it - and realize that every addition which seemed superfluous was in fact necessary. Although it's a heart-breaker, I will happily read it again and again.

'On Chesil Beach' does a fantastic job at transcending its time, at making a point which remains just as valid years and years later. Once we finish reading and start thinking, we realize this obviously is a sad story about lack of communication, NOT lack of sexual experience or lack of love as such. The 1960s setting, the virgin newlyweds and their tale, are here to subtly and masterfully develop an altogether different, much grander theme: the way we seem to avoid at all cost telling the truth about our own feelings, and the repercussions of such avoidance. Nothing to do with the 1960s; today we can all still relate to this, we're all still doing it in 2015 and we will be doing the same probably for generations to come - because we've been brought up in the 'stiff upper lip' tradition, or because we're afraid we'll to look foolish, or hurt the other person; or because we simply don't know how to communicate effectively. That's why, for me, 'On Chesil Beach' packs such a complex punch. It shows how easy it is to misunderstand and mis-communicate, even in the most loving of relationships (thus, by extension, it also questions the definition of love...) and how easy it is to fall into this trap even if you're otherwise very good with words, ie highly educated like the characters are. So the meanings we can extract from this book go way beyond the confines of its 1960s context and the story itself.

I won't even bother with praise for the superb structure, writing, psychological observation. Ian McEwan at his best.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Ian McEwan has reached the status of a British John Updike or Philip Roth, where the publication of each new book is a notable event. It is an appropriate accolade for a writer who has matured from enfant terrible to elder statesman: from edgy stories of sexual irregularity and dramatic violence, to richer investigations of the social and psychological makeup of a people.

Chesil Beach in Dorset is famous to any geography student as being an example of the phenomenon of longshore drift, and drift of a sort is what McEwan's new book is about. It tells the story of Edward and Florence, and their first night of marriage in July 1962 (the year before "sexual intercourse began," as Philip Larkin told us), staying in a hotel near "Chesil Beach with its infinite shingle."

Both are virgins: Edward has first night nerves, and Florence worries that by marrying him she has brought on the physical intimacy she most fears. What McEwan does terribly well is to invigorate old staples that we thought we knew, such as Edward's reciting of political analysis to (as Alan Partridge would put it) `keep the wolf from the door,' which seems both fresh and funny.

Less successful are the pieces of the couple's past which McEwan gives us: the scenes set before they met seem particularly unnecessary, and have the air of having been spliced in later to fill the book out from story to novella. And there is a danger of imbalance, when the meticulously detailed account in the first nine-tenths of the book suddenly switches pace and rushes to a conclusion. Overall, On Chesil Beach is more Amsterdam than Atonement.

But at its best, McEwan's great achievement, here as in Saturday, is to make the reader feel that nothing could be more important, or urgent, right now than to read about whatever his chosen subject happens to be. In this case, he makes a vital cause out of a transitional period, for two anonymous young people, for a generation, and for a country; the era when "to be young was a social encumbrance, a mark of irrelevance, a faintly embarrassing condition for which marriage was the beginning of the cure," the time when "being childlike was not yet honourable, or in fashion."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2013
This is the first book I read by this author and I loved it, It is a reminder that you must always discuss all issues with your loved one, if they really are your loved one, discuss your expectations , fears, loves or risk losing them and facing the consequences of losing that one real love
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65 of 74 people found the following review helpful
Having failed to connect with Ian McEwan's Saturday, I was in two minds about whether to bother with On Chesil Beach. All I can say is, I'm glad I did.

On Chesil Beach is a beautiful story about love and loss. I thought there was nothing new I could read about sex, but On Chesil Beach focuses on a 1962 pair of newlyweds, approaching their first night together with a mixture of fear and expectation. We learn that the couple barely know one another, and that marriage represents the traditional (but long forgotten) voyage of discovery for them. The couple are slightly anachronistic, perhaps, even in 1962; they know it. But their ignorance has a genuine charm and beauty to it.

Although both Edward and Florence had been to university in London, their backgrounds were different. Edward is from a humble background. He has never even slept in a hotel before and during the year of courtship, he has grown in experience and expectation. Florence is from a wealthy and intelligent home, but her family has embraced Edward with enthusiasm. Their marriage represents a time of great hope and joy.

And to add to the hope and joy, McEwan's language just drips from the page. There is barely a word out of place. He manages to combine effortless poetry with perfect lucidity. He controls the couple's emotions with delicate skill.

The novella as a whole is hard to fault. Being harsh, there is a moment of wavering and vacillation towards the end of Part 4 and start of Part 5 that sits a little awkwardly with the crystal clarity of the rest of the work, but ultimately it is a necessary price for the ultimate conclusion. And when that conclusion comes, it is so intense, so exquisite that it brings tears.

Can this win the Booker? My reservation is not in the quality of the work, but the quantity. It is short to the point of being an extended short story - a novella. This brevity means that character development is minimal - instead, we simply have an exploration of the characters as they find themselves on that single day in 1962. Please don't let that sound like damning with faint praise - it isn't. But I suspect that it might stand between McEwan and a second Booker Prize.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 June 2011
It is interesting to read others' reviews on how Florence's thought process reflects both the conservative puritanism of the era before the so-called sexual revolution and the fact that she was allegedly molested during childhood. While I agree with these assessments, as an asexual myself, I found myself empathizing fully with Florence and thought of her as an asexual character. I am not going to say here that that was the intent of the author but I want to say that Florence's revulsion is not necessarily a product of her era but can well survive in our overly sexualized culture. I frown upon the notion that her disgust is deemed an anomaly. I would have behaved exactly as she did, and no I am not a teenager, I'm a 30 year old grown woman.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 2012
________________________________________
Just finished On Chesil Beach. I see now that Edward was not quite as shy and sensitive as I thought. I'm glad about that. I felt a great sense of relief when he let fly at Florence for her frigidity, but also sad for her.

What about him being a bit of a pugilist though? He didn't seem the type to hang around pubs at night looking for `a spot of bovver.' I liked him when he stood up for his Jewish pal however, and understood his qualms about betraying his own ideals of good form etc. Was this broadening of Edward's character done to prepare us for his verbal assault on Florence at the end?

I thought the sex scene was well-handled, even if Edward''s private person wasn't! I didn't find it, as one reader did, 'a crude exposure of something never usually dealt with at length.' But then I was brought up on Henry Miller and have recently peeked into my 14 year-old son's My Booky Wook.

I was reminded of another fine novel about a musician - The Soloist by Mark Salzman. There, too, an obsession with music seems to cancel out sex drives. What is it about musicians?

Another reader says On Chesil Beach is 'a tragedy of "what ifs."' Well, aren't all tragedies this? Don't we feel with Othello - 'the pity of it, Iago'? If only someone had said a word at the right time . . . but it's more than that here: it's a combination of many large and tiny details that lead to the misalliance. And even if they'd got over this problem, they'd have got bored with each other, brought up the past, blamed each other and themselves.
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