On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwanOn Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On Chesil Beach

byIan McEwan

Paperback | April 8, 2008

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The #1 bestselling author of Saturday and Atonement brilliantly illuminates the collision of sexual longing, deep-seated fears and romantic fantasy in his unforgettable, emotionally engaging novel.

The year is 1962. Florence, the daughter of a successful businessman and an aloof Oxford academic, is a talented violinist. She dreams of a career on the concert stage and of the perfect life she will create with Edward, the earnest young history student she met by chance and who unexpectedly wooed her and won her heart. Edward grew up in the country on the outskirts of Oxford where his father, the headmaster of the local school, struggled to keep the household together and his mother, brain-damaged from an accident, drifted in a world of her own. Edward’ s native intelligence, coupled with a longing to experience the excitement and intellectual fervour of the city, had taken him to University College in London. Falling in love with the accomplished, shy and sensitive Florence--and having his affections returned with equal intensity--has utterly changed his life.

Their marriage, they believe, will bring them happiness, the confidence and the freedom to fulfill their true destinies. The glowing promise of the future, however, cannot totally mask their worries about the wedding night. Edward, who has had little experience with women, frets about his sexual prowess. Florence’s anxieties run deeper: she is overcome by conflicting emotions and a fear of the moment she will surrender herself.

From the precise and intimate depiction of two young lovers eager to rise above the hurts and confusion of the past, to the touching story of how their unexpressed misunderstandings and fears shape the rest of their lives, On Chesil Beach is an extraordinary novel that brilliantly, movingly shows us how the entire course of a life can be changed--by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.
Ian McEwan is the acclaimed author of more than ten books, including the novels Saturday, Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the W. H. Smith Literary Award, The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize and The Child in Time, winner of ...
Title:On Chesil BeachFormat:PaperbackDimensions:176 pages, 8.01 × 5.4 × 0.63 inPublished:April 8, 2008Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0676978827

ISBN - 13:9780676978827

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Beautiful writing The writing is beautiful. I really enjoyed the story, though I had some issues with one of the characters.
Date published: 2018-08-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Empathy A short read, but definitely not light. I felt the anguish and inner conflict within each character, causing me to empathize with both, while feeling anguished by their restrained communication.
Date published: 2018-06-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Enjoyable To me, this felt like an extended short story and I loved how it flipped between the present day scenario unfolding and the building of their relationship from when they first met. How this can possibly be translated to film I have no idea but I look forward to the awkwardness. As usual, McEwan's writing was beautiful and although the ending was a bit jarring, I believed it. Lovely book.
Date published: 2018-03-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Short but impactful. Although this is more of a novella, I thought the author fit a lot in and made 166 pages go on like a full novel. I found the character development impressive, parts of the story were relatable, and the ending was a bit disheartening. Overall a book that confused me slightly but would recommend due to the somewhat random, surprising, plot.
Date published: 2018-03-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not really memorable The beginning was good but a little slow. I liked the ending but it's not one of Ian McEwans best stories that I have read. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-01-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Bloody hell. This book started off so enjoyably. But then I think McEwan got pulled away for dinner and forgot to finish it. I feel as though my money was stolen.
Date published: 2014-03-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from on chesil beach Just read this book and simply do not get the hype about it or the Author, it was boring at best.  Sadly the best part was the cover design and fancy cutting of the pages. I read about 25 books a month from all areas of interest, if that makes my opinion valid or not, I guess it's just that...my opinion :)
Date published: 2014-03-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Saying nothing instead of something While Atonement will probably be remembered as Ian McEwan's masterpiece -- bearing in mind McEwan does not surpass it in the surely many great novels to come -- On Chesil Beach stands along with such a novel, with less of a plot, but equal in its poignancy and rich character development. On Chesil Beach really sets McEwan alongside such great modern authors as Philip Roth with his fixation on sexuality in the novel, and how two extremely polite people can fall apart without saying anything. A metaphor that I feel really fits here is that a relationship is like a house: without drainage the rainwater -- unspoken guilt, shame, disappointment, anger, irritation -- will build up, causing the roof to collapse; the relationship will fall apart. This situation befalls Edward and Florence as their relationship is a sort of reverie, a daydream, and their misunderstanding of the expectations they have for one another, hidden by their obstinate politeness. Obviously a well written novel -- it's McEwan, come on -- with a lot packed into its small size. Possibly an awkward read for some, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Date published: 2010-08-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very Indifferent My feelings about this book are of great indifference. I neither loved it nor hated it. There are aspects that just didn't do it for me - it is a dark story, and seemed to drag out quite a bit considering the length (only 166 pages), and the time period (most of the events take place over the course of only a few hours). But there are also aspects I enjoyed - it is a romantic story about coming of age, falling in love, and of a first sexual experience. It is beautifully told, and reads like a classic. McEwan manages to really develop the characters, despite such a short story, and I felt that I well understood the predicament that each was in. It didn't "wow" me, but I enjoyed it all the same.
Date published: 2009-08-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I will be reading more Ian McEwan from now on! I agree with ChrisM that perhaps a few more lines explaining Florence's aversion to physical intimacy may add tremendously to the novella. Regardless, it's still a good effort and I'll be reading more of his books after this.
Date published: 2009-08-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from what's love got to do with it? Unlike the female protagonist of McEwan’s novel, On Chesil Beach I am not a virgin when it comes to McEwan’s work. This is the sixth book I’ve read by this author (Saturday, First Love, Last Rites, The Comfort of Strangers, The Cement Garden, Atonement), but I’d have to say it’s my least favourite. Like his novel Saturday, McEwan compresses time and shows us Edward and Florence, a young couple dining together in a hotel on Chesil Beach on the evening of their wedding. They haven’t yet consummated their union and they are both approaching the idea of the event-to-come from vastly different vantage points. Florence is horrified at the thought of sex and Edward is both patient and anxious. McEwan fills in the blanks in their personal stories as well as their history as a couple and does it well enough that you come to understand Edward and Florence very well. Whether or not you have any sympathy for them will depend on your patience. As inexperienced as Florence is, I was left with the distinctly uneasy impression that her aversion to sex (and she really is repulsed by it: her description of a kiss made me reconsider kissing my husband ever again!) was the result of some traumatic event- although nothing is ever explicitly stated. Edward’s own inexperience has its own unfortunate consequences and the repercussions are devastating. But then McEwan does something I sort of hate in a novel- he flash forwards a few years and then many years and tells us what these people have been up to. That sort of ending never works for me. No question, McEwan is a fabulous writer. This same story, in lesser hands, would be unbearable. As it was, I felt like I was laughing where I shouldn’t be and the climax, no pun intended, was a rather soggy affair.
Date published: 2009-02-03

Read from the Book

ONEThey 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. But it is never easy. They had just sat down to supper in a tiny sitting room on the first floor of a Georgian inn. In the next room, visible through the open door, was a four-poster bed, rather narrow, whose bedcover was pure white and stretched startlingly smooth, as though by no human hand. Edward did not mention that he had never stayed in a hotel before, whereas Florence, after many trips as a child with her father, was an old hand. Superficially, they were in fine spirits. Their wedding, at St Mary’s, Oxford, had gone well; the service was decorous, the reception jolly, the send-off from school and college friends raucous and uplifting. Her parents had not condescended to his, as they had feared, and his mother had not significantly misbehaved, or completely forgotten the purpose of the occasion. The couple had driven away in a small car belonging to Florence’s mother and arrived in the early evening at their hotel on the Dorset coast in weather that was not perfect for mid July or the circumstances, but entirely adequate: it was not raining, but nor was it quite warm enough, according to Florence, to eat outside on the terrace as they had hoped. Edward thought it was, but, polite to a fault, he would not think of contradicting her on such an evening.So they were eating in their rooms before the partially open French windows that gave onto a balcony and a view of a portion of the English Channel, and Chesil Beach with its infinite shingle. Two youths in dinner jackets served them from a trolley parked outside in the corridor, and their comings and goings through what was generally known as the honeymoon suite made the waxed oak boards squeak comically against the silence. Proud and protective, the young man watched closely for any gesture or expression that might have seemed satirical. He could not have tolerated any sniggering. But these lads from a nearby village went about their business with bowed backs and closed faces, and their manner was tentative, their hands shook as they set items down on the starched linen tablecloth. They were nervous too.This was not a good moment in the history of English cuisine, but no one much minded at the time, except visitors from abroad. The formal meal began, as so many did then, with a slice of melon decorated by a single glazed cherry. Out in the corridor, in silver dishes on candle-heated plate warmers, waited slices of long-ago roasted beef in a thickened gravy, soft boiled vegetables, and potatoes of a bluish hue. The wine was from France, though no particular region was mentioned on the label, which was embellished with a solitary, darting swallow. It would not have crossed Edward’s mind to order a red.Desperate for the waiters to leave, he and Florence turned in their chairs to consider the view of a broad mossy lawn, and beyond, a tangle of flowering shrubs and trees clinging to a steep bank that descended to a lane that led to the beach. They could see the beginnings of a footpath, dropping by muddy steps, a way lined by weeds of extravagant size — giant rhubarb and cabbages they looked like, with swollen stalks more than six feet tall, bending under the weight of dark, thick-veined leaves. The garden vegetation rose up, sensuous and tropical in its profusion, an effect heightened by the grey, soft light and a delicate mist drifting in from the sea, whose steady motion of advance and withdrawal made sounds of gentle thunder, then sudden hissing against the pebbles. Their plan was to change into rough shoes after supper and walk on the shingle between the sea and the lagoon known as the Fleet, and if they had not finished the wine, they would take that along, and swig from the bottle like gentlemen of the road.And they had so many plans, giddy plans, heaped up before them in the misty future, as richly tangled as the summer flora of the Dorset coast, and as beautiful. Where and how they would live, who their close friends would be, his job with her father’s firm, her musical career and what to do with the money her father had given her, and how they would not be like other people, at least, not inwardly. 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. Almost strangers, they stood, strangely together, on a new pinnacle of existence, gleeful that their new status promised to promote them out of their endless youth — Edward and Florence, free at last! One of their favourite topics was their childhoods, not so much the pleasures as the fog of comical misconceptions from which they had emerged, and the various parental errors and outdated practices they could now forgive.

Bookclub Guide

1. What do the novel’s opening lines tell us about Edward and Florence? How did your perceptions of them change throughout the subsequent pages? What details did you eventually know about them that they never fully revealed to one another?2. Is Edward’s libido truly the primary reason he proposes marriage, or were other factors involved (perhaps ones he did not even admit to himself)? Are relationships harmed or helped by cultural restrictions against sex before marriage? Would this marriage have taken place if the couple had met when birth–control pills were no longer just a rumor?3. Edward replays the words “with my body I thee worship” in his mind. What might have been the intention in including that line when this version of the marriage ceremony was written? How does it make Edward feel?4. Ian McEwan describes the novel’s time period as an era when youth was not glorified but adulthood was. We are also told that Edward was born in 1940, while his parents contemplated possible outcomes of the war with Germany. At what point did Edward and Florence’s solemnity become viewed as old–fashioned? What contributed to that shift? What are your recollections, or those shared by relatives who lived it, of the emerging youth culture of the late 1960s and ’70s?5. Were Florence and Edward incompatible in ways beyond sexual ones? What do their difficulties in bed say about their relationship altogether? Or is sex an isolated aspect of a marriage?6. Chapter two describes how Florence and Edward met; the first paragraph tells us that they were too sophisticated to believe in destiny. How would you characterize the kind of love they developed? What made them believe they were perfect for one another? Are any two people perfect for one another?7. What did Edward’s decision to go to London for college indicate about his goals? What was Florence’s dream for her future? Was marriage a greater social necessity for her, as a woman? Would her career as a classical musician necessarily have been sacrificed if she had remained with Edward?8. Compare Edward’s upbringing to Florence’s. How did their parents affect their attitudes toward life? How did the limitations of Edward’s mother shape his feelings about responsibility and women? Was Florence drawn to her mother’s competitiveness?9. To what extent was the financial gulf between Edward and Florence a source of trouble? How might the relationship have unfolded, particularly during this time period, if Edward, not Florence, had been the spouse with financial security?10. Chapter four recounts the moment when Edward tells Florence he loves her because she’s “square,” not in spite of it. Are their opposing tastes the product of their temperaments or the episodes in their young lives? What is your understanding of her revulsion to sex?11. Discuss the novel’s setting, which forms its title. What is the effect of the creaky hotel McEwan creates, and the crashing permanent waves on a beach where the temperatures are still chilly in June? What does it say about the newlyweds that this is the scene of their wedding night?12. In the end, Edward explores various “what ifs.” Would their marriage have lasted if he had consented to her request for platonic living arrangements? What are the best ways to predict whether a couple can sustain a marriage?13. How would Edward and Florence have fared in the twenty–first century? Has the nature of love changed as western society has evolved?14. The author tells us that the marriage ended because Edward was callous, and that as Florence ran from him, she was at the same time desperately in love with him. Why did Edward respond the way he did? Why was it so difficult for them to be honest about their feelings? How would you have reacted that night?15. Discuss the structure of On Chesil Beach . What is the effect of reading such a compressed storyline, weaving one night with the years before and after it? How did it shape your reading to see only Edward’s point of view in the end? What might Florence’s perspective have looked like?16. In what ways does On Chesil Beach represent a departure for Ian McEwan? In what ways does it enhance the themes in his previous fiction?

Editorial Reviews

"Breathtaking...On Chesil Beach takes on subjects of universal interest and creates a small but complete universe around them. McEwan's prose is as masterly as ever, here striking a remarkably subtle balance between detachment and sympathy, dry wit and deep compassion. It reaffirms my conviction that no one writing in English surpasses or even matches McEwan's accomplishment."—The Washington Post Book World"Remarkable, engaging, and gripping...On Chesil Beach is not only a wonderful read but also perhaps the rarest of things: a perfect novel. Certainly it affords the reader every kind of satisfaction, from graphic and dramatic scenes to subtle pentimento effects, from quotidian matters to high drama and intense emotion...McEwan is reminiscent of that greatest of novelists in matters sexual: D.H. Lawrence...[But] in On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan has outdone D.H. Lawrence, given the daunting challenge he has set himself in writing a novel on a fraught and loaded topic like this. What higher praise can there be?"—The San Francisco Chronicle"Momentous...On Chesil Beach builds a potent suspense swiftly, and McEwan details the couple's sexual encounter with unnerving precision. Such meticulousness underscores how a few moments can define a future, how difficult it is to lay ourselves bare, how human to flee from better destinies. Fortunately, though life is never easy, as the narrator reminds us, gorging ourselves on McEwan's impeccable prose is."—The Miami Herald"Wrenching, funny, smart, and hugely gratifying in unexpected ways, On Chesil Beach packs a pretty good wallop of its own...On Chesil Beach is as merciful to its characters as it is merciless in its heartbreak. Their bruised pasts and querulous hopes unfold beautifully through the novel, almost destined to collide and then fade into the sorrow of real life."—The Boston Globe"How McEwan writes such extraordinary suspense into the ordinary is a marvel...On Chesil Beach leaves one's appetite for the woes and stuff of life unsated. It's mostly a story of how we mistake those we love most, and how we are imprisoned in our inability to name what we urgently must speak."—The New York Post"On Chesil Beach is completely absorbing...This short book is intense and powerful...It is no exaggeration to say that the book is a masterpiece--in miniature, maybe, but a masterpiece nonetheless."—The Philadelphia Inquirer“In structure and design, this small and exquisite novel is markedly different from McEwan's magisterial Atonement, but it still possesses the author's moody worldview, wherein beauty and human intimacy are frailties too often crushed by chance. A newly married couple in mid-20th-century England, bringing their worries and their pasts to their wedding night, try only to connect: The result is a cello suite of sadness, encompassing an entire swatch of English culture and the legacy of roads not taken.”-Boston Globe “short, intense, brilliantly written...McEwan's fiction just gets better and better, and even when he's in a minor mode, as he is here, he is nothing short of amazing.-Washington Post “McEwan [is] one of our best contemporary fiction writers...In On Chesil Beach, he continues his fine tradition as sage and master storyteller.”-The Roanoake Times “Exquisite... Sexual squeamishness has never been written about more adroitly or sympathetically...a small masterpiece. ‘A.’”-Entertainment Weekly “A book that shouldn’t be shocking on this side of the ‘60s, On Chesil Beach shocks us nonetheless by showing how very little our institutions understand the messiness of the human heart. McEwan is at his best here, extending a single moment to include all moments...The rush of the last chapter skidding into the present will surely give you vertigo as the past and the present collide in a remarkable conclusion. On Chesil Beach is both delicate and brawny—vintage McEwan.”-Santa Cruz Sentinel “elegant [and] unflinching...McEwan has worked his prose to an almost Edwardian cadence...This is McEwan's fourth short novel, and it is the most deceptively subversive...oddly beautiful.”-St. Louis Post-Dispatch“Achingly beautiful…. An ingenious exploration of addled psychology.”–Booklist