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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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This is a beautifully written and short novel about Florence and Edward who have just married and are on their honeymoon in the early 1960s near to Chesil Beach. The story deals with a very short time period as well as recapping some of their earlier life and how they came together and then concludes with a look ahead. The key moment, however, occurs on the eponymous beach when the distance between them could perhaps have been closed.

Both of the couple are virgins on their wedding night and both are uninformed about all aspects of the physical act. Edward is afraid that he will get things wrong and Florence is afraid of intimacy. As a result they are both unsatisfied and the failure of their first night together reveals their complete unpreparedness for marriage. This is a book where the premise works well for the time in which it is set (it is unlikely that modern characters would be so uneducated about the physical act) but where the story is really about issues that still resonate today; about communication, trust, openness, etc. You feel for both of them and will them to just talk to one another.

The parts of the book that tell of their lives up to the honeymoon night illuminate their inability to communicate - each of them has preconceptions of what a marriage should be like and has made assumptions about what the other has done and is thinking. The is a growing feeling of inevitability as the book progresses and we realise that there is only one real outcome.

This is a quick and sad read. It is well crafted and the whole situation is well understood by the reader. The prose is clear but lyrical in places and the location, the deserted and almost barren shingle, mirrors the state of the relationship.
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If you are easily seduced by beautiful sentences, you'll feel On Chesil Beach is a five-star book. If you love exploring inner dialogue, you'll be even more pleased with this book.

If, however, you like your stories to be compelling because of their relevance and interest to your own life, you'll wonder why in the world Mr. McEwan chose to write about this particular problem of poor communications in the context of 1962. As you delve deeper into the book, you'll be even more puzzled by the book's pivotal event and the characters' reactions to it.

The short book (neither novella nor full novel) is organized in five parts that seem much like the acts in a Greek tragedy. The opening scene shows a couple dining in their room at an inn. "They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible." The second act describes how they met. The third act takes place in their bedroom in the inn. The fourth act describes their courtship. The fifth act takes place on the beach and in their lives afterward as they attempt and fail to communicate.

Mr. McEwan does a good job of capturing your attention through exploring the couple's growing tension as they move toward the consummation of their marriage. But past that point, the story seemed like a punctured balloon to me: My interest was gone. I suspect that reaction is because I didn't feel close to either character; they are more there to entertain me than to lead me into experiencing the story like the characters do.

Clearly, the story would have worked much better for me if focused around a more universal trial in marriage, such as handling both sets of parents during the birth of a first child. I also thought that Mr. McEwen played the role of the Greek chorus too often . . . telling us what was going on rather than letting us see and hear the action. The fourth part seems clearly out of place; it should have preceded the third part.

Unless you are drawn to beautiful sentences and images, I suggest you skip this book . . . it's a misdirected storytelling foray by a talented writer that is eminently avoidable.
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on 30 April 2013
It is 1962, and for Edward and Florence it is the eve of their wedding night. Sitting at dinner together at their hotel in Dorset, however, they both struggle silently with their inner anxieties, unable to express their feelings to each other, afraid of the expectations ahead of them. As the evening moves on tensions continue to rise, threatening to tear husband and wife apart before their marriage has even begun.

This is a well observed and beautifully drawn story, with its multi-layered yet minimalist style and elegant prose. McEwan writes with thoughtful and sensitive insight, exploring the psychology of the central characters, drawing on their backgrounds and early experiences in the shaping of their makeup. The social landscape of the early 60s is well conveyed, but although the social constraints of the time undoubtedly play a part in the struggles the couple face, the story's main themes are relevant to today's society too. It is a story that highlights the dangers of repressed emotions and poor communication, of how events and actions misinterpreted as well as pride can have devastating consequences.

This is a touching story, but rather sad, its ending carrying too much of a sense of unfulfillment and disappointment for me personally. Also McEwan hints at certain darker undertones with regards to FLorence's upbringing, but this is never actually clarified. The length and pace of the story were also a little unsatisfying; it was too short for a novel, the ending in particular feeling rushed, yet other parts appeared quite stretched out in places.

Overall an interesting and unusual read; yet not quite as engaging as i had hoped it to be.
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on 28 May 2012
Ian McEwan has writtten a 1950's set book in the language and style of a a writer of that era, Elizabeth Taylor, for example. The nod to modernism is the subject matter, sexual fear and sexual inadequacy. This sounds bleaker than the novel is, for it is both sensitive and bittersweet.
Edward and Florence are deeply in love but the mores of the day and the lack of experience of Florence make the notion of sexual consummation of their love seem something shameful and abnormal, at least to Florence who fears her frgidity.
Edward is more experienced, earthier and less aesthetic and in the end, it is his anger which destrys the relationship. Failing to realise the delicate balance of power between man and woman he literally blows it.
The consequences leave him without the love and compassion which he could have won had he been more patient and less eager to blame.
Florence is left with her wonderful musical talent and one would think; the everlasting fear of her own impotency in the face of such carnal failure.
Not all men and women are great lovers, anger, repression and all manner of other emotions are often an ingredient in sexual congress, and McEwan has shown this in a rather methodical and delicate manner.
Courtship is supposed to be precursor to divine ecstasy, but in these times in which McEwan writes, chemistry was not heard of, and Edward and Florence fail miserably, despite their great intentions to please one another.
Florence does not wish to be besmirched or overpowered, her life has been too attenuated to imagine anything but the intellectual and the emtoional bond of friendship. Edward desires her too intensely because he wishes to unleash the sexual side of her being, which effect he does not realise is out of his reach due to his inexperience and immaturity.
A man's desire is not different to a woman's but one's backgrounds can be completely alien, as McEwan points out in Edward's odd and earthy but kind upbringing compared to Florence's starchy and unloving bluestocking childhood. There is also a hint of something lurking here which was a sense of something having happened between her and her father, but this was not explicated, and I read twice through to check I had not read too much into this, McEwan elides this hint.
There is a comparison with Julian Barnes' novel 'The Sense of an Ending' which also delves into the lack of sexual balance between man and woman in the same historical period.
After reading McEwan's novel I felt very moved, whereas the Barnes' novel is a convoluted exercise with a complicated plot.
This has to do with the empathetic nature of McEwan's writing.
I liked the book very much for its originality and oddness.
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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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on 5 May 2008
What an interesting read! As many of the reviews have said before, McEwan has handled this sensitive situation with a fantastic amount of understanding from both parties of the main characters points of view. A beautiful piece of writing but also an opportunity to relate this to our lives.
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on 29 April 2015
This carefully constructed novel told from the alternating viewpoints of the only two protagonists almost, almost catches the feel of the times. It would not have worked unless, as is the case, the female protagonist were not something of a type, a highly musical but otherwise limited young woman. I knew examples of the type way back in the era he describes, when the problem pages of young women's magazines regularly dealt with the question of whether it was okay to kiss a young man at the end of a first date, and if not on the first then when?, though those who wrote such enquiries were a dying breed even then. But if I hadn't known such types — even as late as the 70s one engaged couple I knew managed to live together, in separate bedrooms, in complete and undoubted chastity for a year before their marriage — I might have struggled to believe in their existence. But once having accepted the plausibility of the idea it is easy to believe the inner workings of the characters in the rich depth n which McEwan writes of them. This is the great strength and satisfaction of the book.
Where the book is less richly engaging is in the tiny wrong details of the time it is set in. For example, no young man sliding his hand up the leg f his
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on 27 January 2013
I've been meaning to read this book for so long, so glad I finally bought it.Beautifully observed, beautifully written. I believe it received a lot of adverse criticism when it was first published -- as far as I'm concerned it's a little masterpiece.
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on 8 May 2008
Very far from being the masterpiece that the hype merchants have depicted. The style is brilliant but there's hardly anything at the centre. A clash of wills compounded by ignorance and innocence, blown up into a needless tragedy.
A good short story extended into a novel.
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on 5 November 2015
You know that feeling when you read a book by a writer whose work you haven't read before, and you enjoy it so much and realize that in reading more of the author's books you have hours and hours of reading pleasure ahead? That is the feeling I experienced halfway through On Chesil Beach.

The setting is simple enough. Two newlyweds in their early twenties on their wedding night, in England in the early 1960s. They're young, innocent, in love and have every reason to look forward to life together with hope. That is not how things work out, however.

What struck me most about this meticulously constructed short novel is that every sentence seems pitch perfect. It is written with balance and equanimity, and the reader is not asked to side with either the male or female protagonist, but can understand the various pressures both face.

I don't know enough about Ian McEwan to know how much he labours over his work, but it gives the impression it is written with consummate ease. I liked it very much and look forward to reading more of his novels.
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