On Chesil Beach is an exposition of one couple’s present and past, that centers on their tumultuous wedding night. In this short novel, Ian McEwan presents to us Edward and Florence, newlyweds who are “young, educated, and both virgins.”
It is July 1962, and as the couple sits down to dinner at their hotel, we learn that each is dealing with their fair share of anxiety about what will happen later in the adjacent bedroom. While both are excited to spend the rest of their lives together, this one issue stands between them. For Edward, getting everything right is his biggest fear. As eager as he is to consummate their marriage, he is also inexperienced and afraid of embarrassing himself and his new wife. Florence, on the other hand, fears sex itself.
Never having had the courage to broach the subject before, Florence has studied books describing the minute details of intercourse to prepare herself. Even still she feels that “sex with Edward could not be the summation of her joy, but was the price she must pay for it.” While Edward’s fear is real, it is Florence’s mounting horror that reeks of impending disaster.
As the novel progresses, McEwan weaves the couple’s history with the events of their wedding night. He explains how they met and fell in love and the plans they have made for the future. The author artfully creates a picture of two people on the verge of independence and adulthood, complete with all its pride and expectation. What McEwan does well is to create characters that are complex and compelling.
In the end, we are left considering the choices Edward and Florence make and the consequences of their decisions. Above all, we are challenged to ponder the effect of fears and assumptions never voiced.
Ian McEwan reads his own work in this unabridged audio book. His confident presentation of each sentence allows the listener to sink into the story and focus on the characters instead of the storyteller. This edition also includes an interview with McEwan.