I’ll be honest I was debating whether or not I should write a review for On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, not because I hated it (I liked it actually) but because of the theme.
This book is sexually explicit and covers what the awkwardness of marriage for newly weds can be like, so I’d leave behind your adventurous side for another day if this can make you cringe.
The only reason why I picked this book up was because of the movie that was released this year, starring Saoirse Ronan, and well… there were 4 copies in different sizes lying in the used books bookstore.
It seemed short. The title looked interesting and I figured why not?
Would I have picked it up had I known a few more details? No, I think not.
But that isn’t to say the author didn’t write a good novel; just not of my liking or books I am generally attracted to.
On Chesil beach by Ian McEwan, is a story set in the 1960s right after Britain is recovering from the second World War, about a young, ambitious couple in love and married.
“… Love and patience- if only he had had them both at once- would surely have seen them both through.”
Literally 2 hours after their wedding ceremony the reader arrives to their honeymoon suite where they are having a dinner, exclaiming their love for one another, and disguising their anxiety behind smiles and food.
“But it was too interesting, too new, too flattering, too deeply comforting to resist, it was a liberation to be in love and say so, and she could only let herself go deeper.”
After the dinner, an “incident” happens whereby Florence runs out on Edward along the beach. He follows her after a while and they have fight where their truest self finally comes to light.
“It is shaming sometimes, how the body will not, or cannot, lie about emotions.”
Florence tries to convince Edward on how they can make their marriage work, but their youth and the heat of the moment leads to further misunderstanding and ultimately the two part ways.
“All she had needed was the certainty of his love, and his reassurance that there was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them.”
Now, the story isn’t just about this moment. It goes back in the past throughout the story, showing how they met, their ideas, their families, and social class difference.
“She knew very well that people fell out, even stormily, and then made up. But she did not know how to start – she simply did not have the trick of it…”
It looks as if they are stuck in a limbo. With one foot in the future and one foot in the past, where they have to be considerate of societal norms and traditions.
“His anger stirred her own and she suddenly thought she understood their problem: they were too polite, too constrained, too timorous, they went around each other on tiptoes, murmuring, whispering, deferring, agreeing.”
Britain is going through a change, and the once upheld beliefs and values are seen by the youth as holding them back, rather than allowing them to explore and be independent.
“This was still the era – it would end later in that famous decade – when to be young was a social encumbrance, a mark of irrelevance, a faintly embarrassing condition for which marriage was the beginning of a cure.”
It is in this time of change and confusion where Edward’s and Florence’s love is tested, and they decide on getting married.
The incident mentioned above, had to do with Florence’s reluctance to a certain act. And although Edward claims her to be “frigid and cold”, we are shown a small glimpse into her childhood with her father from where her behavior might have sprang from.
On Chesil Beach maybe short, but the author managed to say a lot about the uncertainties and complexities that the people were stuck in during the 60s. How propriety, social status, free will and sexuality were still being understood and defined.
And how a misunderstanding couldn’t be resolved due to all these constraints, and led two people on different roads.
Onto the basics:
- Rating: 4.0 /5.0
- Favorite quote: “This is how the entire course of a life can be changed: by doing nothing.”
- Reader level: It is perfectly easy.
- Should you read: 1000%.
- Would I read it again: hell yes!
Till next time,