So many reviews have already been
written by so many about McEwan's On Chesil Beach
that it wouldn't be surprising to find that the
total word count of reviews surpass those of the
novel itself - an almost pocket-sized 200 pages in
which every word has been honed to perfection.
Indeed, many of the reviews are in such detail that,
if you have read as many as we have, you might feel
that there's little reason to read the book itself -
but to miss this little gem of a novel would be a
Most reviews focus on the fact that the book is centered around a newly married couple's first night, with much discussion of the sexual mores of the period (early 1960s); and, inevitably, many reviewers refer to Ian Larkin's iconic poem, Annus Mirabilis, which opens with the lines:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) --
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.
On Chesil Beach is a book
about a particular point in history where massive
cultural change was taking place, and poor old
Florence and Edward are stuck just on the wrong side
of the cusp. However, it has much more on offer than a description of
every bungled move during a night of bad sex in a
gruesome holiday hotel.
On Chesil Beach is about relationships. Many novels are stuffed with interrelated characters, but McEwan has whittled his focus down to just Edward and Florence. Of course, they have family and friends and, as the book unfolds, we learn something of the people and events that have influenced them; but when they step into the bell jar of their hotel room they leave all extraneous influences outside, allowing us to microscopically examine the motivations and miscommunications of these two well meaning young people in a controlled atmosphere, in which every misstep is theirs alone and their future happiness can turn on something as spontaneous and irretrievable as a single gesture.
Chesil Beach: The hotel that Florence and Edward stay in maybe fictitious, but 18-mile long Chesil Beach in Dorset (where it is known as Chesil Bank) is one of the natural wonders of the English coastline. The couple plan to walk on the shingle beach between the sea and the lagoon, known as the Fleet. You'll find pictures of where they might have walked at the Chesil Beach website.
This review was originally published in July 2007, and has been updated for the June 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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