On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan

February 15, 2010 § 17 Comments

It was the brooding expectation of her giving more, and because she didn’t, she was a disappointment for slowing everything down. Whatever new frontier she crossed, there was always another waiting for her. Every concession she made increased the demand, and then the disappointment.

In a sense, this is a book that’s very difficult to talk about if you’ve not also read it already. It’s a short book in which almost nothing ever happens. Or, rather, there’s nothing I can say about the plot in more than a couple of sentences that won’t give away 3/4 of the book.

This is only the second of McEwan’s books that I’ve read, the first being Saturday. And already I think there are similarities they share between the both of them that convince me that this is probably the way McEwan writes, and you either like it, or hate it: he tends to go off in tangents.

In On Chesil Beach, the story starts with a young couple on their wedding night. It’s still in the early 60’s, sex is still a taboo subject, and they both know nothing of what they could expect from each other during that first night together. Reflective of this setting, even the writing felt very held-back, words felt carefully chosen so as to keep faithful to the permissible language of the time.

Then the story verges off into their past, as we learn more about Edward’s and Florence’s lives. How did such vastly different characters come together? What were their childhoods like? What are their likes and dislikes? How did their past experiences shape what they are thinking of this very night?

The book jumps from the now to the past, from Edward to Florence then back to Edward again. The Edward now does something, and is reminded of what Edward past did, and how Florence past reacted. For such a short book, I found that it took me a little longer than usual to read, simply because I had to put in a little more effort to keep up my concentration level.

It’s a well-written, well thought-out book, I feel. Just, maybe, not quite the book for me.

Rating: 3.5

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