The moment that changes everything – “On Chesil Beach” by Ian McEwan

June 7, 2013 at 5:52 pm 1 comment

“On Chesil Beach” by Ian McEwan, Published in 2007

This was one of the books that Will and his mother read in “The End of Your Life Book Club” and so I picked it up at the library.  It is written impeccably.  It is also wistful and terribly sad.  It is perfect.

On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the outset of the book, it is 1962.  Florence and Edward have just gotten married and it is the first day of their honeymoon.  They are being served dinner at a private table in their hotel located on Chesil Beach in Dorset.  There is a tension between them because they are both virgins and are anxious about the physical intimacy that is expected from the honeymoon night.  McEwan then takes the reader back and forth between what is occurring between Florence and Edward at the hotel on this one fateful night and their lives leading to that moment.

Edward has come from a humble background.  His mother suffered a dramatic brain injury when she was pregnant with Edward’s twin sisters and ever since she has not been quite right.  The family lives in a kind of ordered chaos with a mother who drifts in and out of a dream world and a father who tries to do absolutely everything for the family.  Edward is studying history at college and is obsessed with the incidental particulars of historical figures.

Florence is raised in an ordered Victorian styled home.  She has wanted for nothing, except for maybe a less frigid mother.  She is a talented violinist, she is beautiful and she is admired.

The two meet and fall in love at first sight.  But as they sit down to dinner on their honeymoon night it becomes clear that they truly do not know each other.  They have been all politeness and smiles, without substance.  They are awkward together and as Florence leads Edward to bed she is just hoping to get the dreadful act done and over. After the fumbling and the pivotal moment where everything physically goes wrong, the couple find themselves on the beach both embarrassed and infuriated. This all leads to a heated argument and a confession where things are said that cannot be taken back, their meaning cannot be erased and the future course is set for their relationship.

McEwan’s genius is in full force here.  He is able to deftly take the reader back and forth between the different pieces of the relationship.  You can see the characters and feel the tension.  He has also keyed into that human element, that struggle we all have of second guessing our choices and running our mind in circles about what we should have, could have done differently.  But of course, when everything happens, we don’t always know that it was that moment that would change everything.

(Warning: please note that, though the title has the word beach in it, this is not a fun summer romp of a read. But we would expect nothing less from the tragic tales of Ian McEwan I suppose.)

Other reviews to check out:


Entry filed under: June 2013 reads. Tags: , , , .

Becoming important – “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer Oh just tell the truth already – “Drowning Ruth” by Christine Schwarz

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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