Sunday 10 July 2011

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Despite all of the hype about Atonement, On Chesil Beach is the first Ian McEwan book I have ever read.  It's more of a novella and tells the story of Florence and Edward on their wedding night in 1962.  Despite being very much in love, they have never broached the subject of sex and both are anxious for different reasons - Edward has performance anxiety and Florence is repulsed by the idea of sexual contact.  As the night goes on, the effects of their lack of communication become clear.

I loved this little book.  It was one of those books where not much happens and the characters are very ordinary, but McEwan has a real gift for observing emotions and human relations.  Whilst reading I felt as though I was inside the heads of both Edward and Florence, but especially Florence.  Weighed down by concern about how she 'should' act and behave, Florence can't help but make things worse for herself;

"She seized his hand and led him towards the bed.  It was perverse of her, insane even, when she wanted to run from the room, across the gardens and down the lane, onto the beach to sit alone.  But her sense of duty was painfully strong and she could not resist it.  She could not bear to let Edward down." p33

"Sex with Edward could not be the summation of her joy, but was the price she must pay for it." p9

McEwan wrote simply, but somehow managed to pack more emotional impact into this short book than some authors manage in much longer works.  I found myself rooting for Florence and Edward, and wanting to reach into the book and shake them when they were failing to communicate.  It wasn't a happy book, and McEwan seemed to highlight how easily happiness can be dispersed and how emotions (especially pride) and events can get in the way.  I could feel the awkwardness and emotions radiating from the characters.  It was also nice to read a book in which sex was treated realistically, rather than over the top and always perfect.

Verdict: Go and buy a copy!
Source: My bookshelf
Score: 5 out of 5

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  1. This was the first Ian McEwan book that I read, too, and I loved it for all the same reasons you did. I listened to it on audio, and from what I remember, McEwan was the narrator.

  2. I haven't read any Ian McEwan. My local book club will be reading McEwan's book Saturday in September, but I haven't committed to it yet. I think I may read this first. Thanks for the review.

  3. My first McEwan was Amsterdam, which I loved. I have a few others on my shelf (I started Atonement, but got distracted before I finished it), but I don't think I have _On Chesil Beach_

  4. You really must read Atonement! It's one of my favorite books. :-)

  5. This was my first McEwan read as well. I am always impressed by his ability to dissect a few moments and to explore all of the implications of decisions that people make in split seconds.

  6. I loved this book too! It was one of those books that linger on. And please do read Atonement - it is one of the best books I've read.

  7. An author I still have to read. Making a note of this one.

  8. I did not read Atonement, but I did see the movie, and remember being stunned by the ending.

    Your review of this one just proves that bigger is not always better - the fact that the author was able to pack that much emotion into a shorter work is a sign of a really talented author in my mind.

  9. I bought this at the library sale last summer - sounds like I should read it before acquiring more books at this year's sale!

  10. Melissa - I always enjoy listening to the author as narrator.

    Beachreader - It's the first McEwan I've read but I think it is a good introduction because it's quite short and sweet :p

    Karen - I do own Amsterdam, so I should read it!

    Jillianreadsbooks - I will read Atonement one day. I think the hype put me off a little bit.

    Shannon - You've summed up perfectly what he does, something I was trying to say in my review but didn't manage as articulately as you!

    Misha - You're right about it lingering, I think I will remember it and reread it in the future. I will read Atonement, it's on hold at the library.

    Mystica - I think it's a good intro to McEwan as it's short and sweet.

    The Book Girl - I managed to avoid the movie so hopefully the ending won't be ruined when I do get around to reading Atonement.

    JoAnn- you should read it! :)

  11. I think you've hit the nail on the head there about what make Ian McEwan such a good writer - he writes simply but with great skill and depth, and is emotive without being flowery. I haven't read this one yet, but I really can recommend Atonement, it is brilliant.

  12. I haven't read this one yet, but I like the idea that it is written realistically and it seems like an interesting storyline. Like everyone else, I really enjoyed Atonement although like this one it was not a particularly happy book.

  13. I still have not read this one for some reason and I do own a copy. I loved Atonement.

  14. I read Atonement twice, because I was puzzled that everyone I read it with claimed to love it and I couldn't stand the thing. It is my least favorite McEwan that I've read, The Comfort of Strangers being my favorite because it is dark and disturbing. I haven't read On Chesil Beach yet, but it is on my list!

    The most surprising McEwan I've read is Solar, because it made me laugh, and I'm used to him being much more serious.