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262 of 274 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost
A brilliant book, but such a sad one; it would be unfair not to say so up front. Ian McEwan is a master at dissecting emotions. Every page of this wonderfully-crafted novel gave me the uncanny feeling of living within the skins of the two main characters, Edward and Florence, just married as the book opens. When they fall in love, nurture ambitions, experience happiness,...
Published on June 15, 2007 by Roger Brunyate

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50 of 61 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Talented Wordcrafter Describes an Improbable Honeymoon
If you are easily seduced by beautiful sentences, you'll feel On Chesil Beach is a five-star book. If you love exploring inner dialogue, you'll be even more pleased with this book.

If, however, you like your stories to be compelling because of their relevance and interest to your own life, you'll wonder why in the world Mr. McEwan chose to write about this...
Published on July 6, 2007 by Donald Mitchell


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262 of 274 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost, June 15, 2007
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A brilliant book, but such a sad one; it would be unfair not to say so up front. Ian McEwan is a master at dissecting emotions. Every page of this wonderfully-crafted novel gave me the uncanny feeling of living within the skins of the two main characters, Edward and Florence, just married as the book opens. When they fall in love, nurture ambitions, experience happiness, I feel these things too. But when happiness eludes them, the pain is unbearable, not least because the author never lets us forget by how small a margin their happiness was missed.

In his last major novel, SATURDAY, McEwan pulled back from the multi-decade scope of ATONEMENT its predecessor, choosing to confine himself to the events of a single day. Here, the essential action occupies a mere three hours, described in a book which is itself unusually compact, a mere novella of only 200 delicate pages. In an opening that is surely a homage to Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," the new husband and wife sit in a hotel room within sound of the sea on England's South coast. They eat a mediocre meal in one room; in the next, their bed stands waiting. They love each other, there is never any doubt about that, but they are inexperienced and secretly afraid. The book tells how they came to that moment, and what becomes of their love and fears as they move from one room into the other.

I have not known McEwan to write before in such detail about sex, but his writing is never prurient. Every detail serves to illustrate the psychological intercourse between these two talented and caring young people. On this particular night, as in a high-stakes game, their honeymoon bed becomes the board upon which all the other pieces of their relationship must be played. By going back to the early 1960s, that dark hour just before the dawn of the sexual revolution, McEwan performs the remarkable feat of undoing the modern liberation of sex from marriage and returning to a mindset in which marriage was not only a contract for sex, but sex might also be a prime reason for marriage.

But not the only reason. The focus on the bedroom also makes you consider all the other qualities that these two bring to their marriage, and before long you feel that you know them very well. [Exceptionally well in my case, since I was also born in Britain in the same year (1940), and share qualities with each of them; readers might take this into account when weighing the objectivity of my reactions.] Edward is a bright young man from the country who has recently achieved a first-class academic degree. Florence comes from a more socially sophisticated family, though she herself is naive in most things. The one exception is her calling as a violinist; here as in SATURDAY, McEwan is extraordinary in his use of music; the sections describing Florence's quartet playing are right up there with Vikram Seth's AN EQUAL MUSIC, my touchstone for sensitive writing about musicians. So both are bright, both are talented, both feel the stirring of new possibilities, but there are big differences between them, socially and culturally (Edward, for example, is into rock), and they each want different things. But the most heartbreaking things in this book are not their differences, but how often and how close they come to making new connections; just an inch more, a moment longer, and everything might be all right.... Almost.

But McEwan does not end the story in the bedroom or on the beach below. Much as in ATONEMENT, though in only a few pages, he adds an epilogue continuing the story forward several decades. At the time, I felt it was too brief to settle all the emotions stirred up by the preceding pages, but now as I write, several hours after closing the book, I begin to see its rightness and appreciate its consolation.
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69 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply impeccable. Sad, but impeccable., August 21, 2007
Nowadays, in premarital relationships, sexual compatibility is something that most couples do not wait too long to find out about. Typically, we're getting to this part quicker and quicker it seems, and I would venture to say that this is an area fraught with less mutual confusion than say for instance, the depth of true "love" between the two people. Compatibility in other realms taking a [shall we say] front seat while the people themselves are [ahem] in the back one!
In other words, [generally speaking now], courtship includes sexship!
Yeah! Well!
? Meet Edward and Florence.

We are told in the very first sentence [the author does not court his reader long]... They 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.
When was this time?
1962.
Pre-sexual-revolution England.

Thing is, Edward and Florence are in love. They've got that part of things in order.
They're 22 years old. They've got the world by the tail.
Florence, daughter of wealthy parents, has her musical interests.
Edward loves history, and dreams of being a writer.
McEwan paints a rather idyllic sort of atmosphere surrounding the couple, Edward becoming increasingly involved with the Ponting family, even moving into their villa just off the Banbury Road. He plays regular tennis with Geoffrey, the future father-in-law, and lands a job working in the family business.
What could be wrong in this picture?

Well, in the midst of all of this splendor and promise, there are things that both of these youngsters avoid confronting, on a communicative level.
Edward, well aware of his own sexual inexperience, is startled to find that even his slightest advances toward Florence are met with seemingly undue resistance. Yea, even revulsion.
Florence, we are told in one brief, almost hidden away sentence, thinks that Edward has been with many women, before her. This misinformation fuels her reticence and fear.
McEwan seems to suggest [albeit so subtly that the reader must guess at it] that Florence has experienced sexual abuse at the hands of her father in the past.
Point being that lack of communication, like termites, is eating away at what could be a perfectly good building.

And so here we are at The Wedding Night.
We are on Chesil Beach, at this resort.... well, not us, but these two are there.
And McEwan writes so forcefully that we cannot help but become wicked voyeurs.
Yea, we lean in closer, to be sure we hear every word... see every eyelash flicker.
They are having a very lackluster, fear-fraught dinner.
And then the moment arrives.
The bed.
False signals are flying every which way, like penalty flags at a soccer match.
McEwan is all about moments. About antecedent causes, and how moments in time can change us forever.
Well, for those of us who appreciate this aspect of his work, [and I am one of them] he is not about to disappoint us here. Everything about this novella is compact and quick, and believe me, it comes to a ragingly lopsided climax now.
Quickly. No words wasted.
It is not spoiling anything here for me to say that the bed scene is an absolute disaster. An emotional armageddon.

But the true tragedy is yet to appear.
On Chesil Beach.

Not to over-moralize here, but the book made me ask myself a question.
At what point do we attend to the physical matters of relationship?
Is the correct answer to be only after the wedding day, as many religions [and presumably, "God"] would tell us? As Edward and Florence did?
Far be it from me to attempt an answer to that question that would suit all people.
But, this book surely provides one look at the devastation that can result from an unrealistic commitment to delayed gratification and lack of open communication.
Whatever else we want to think about sex, one thing that rings true in this book is that it is profoundly important.
And to think otherwise, and enter into marriage in a state of mutual sexual ignorance, can be life-threatening.

And yet, On Chesil Beach is not even about sex.
It's about "love and patience" which, as Edward realizes on the last page, [and decades later] could have saved the day. Could have "seen them both through."
We are given hints that Florence has learned the same thing, too.
Sometimes, [in fact, perhaps all the time] to do nothing, is to have done too much.
The armageddon of the bedroom scene was fixable.

What an amazing, amazing book!
Days later, I re-read the last 50 pages or so, aloud, to a friend, and even knowing it all ahead of time, had to stop several times. Couldn't go on.
The last chapter, the fifth one, is among the most moving pieces of writing I have ever encountered.
On Chesil Beach is the eighth McEwan book I have read.
I've loved each one, but I think I like this one best.
So, in my opinion, Chesil Beach is five stars out of five!
It will become a beloved novel to everyone who will have, or is having, or has had a love relationship with another person. And you've gotta admit, that's a huge audience.
Such is the appeal, of On Chesil Beach.
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50 of 61 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Talented Wordcrafter Describes an Improbable Honeymoon, July 6, 2007
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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If you are easily seduced by beautiful sentences, you'll feel On Chesil Beach is a five-star book. If you love exploring inner dialogue, you'll be even more pleased with this book.

If, however, you like your stories to be compelling because of their relevance and interest to your own life, you'll wonder why in the world Mr. McEwan chose to write about this particular problem of poor communications in the context of 1962. As you delve deeper into the book, you'll be even more puzzled by the book's pivotal event and the characters' reactions to it.

The short book (neither novella nor full novel) is organized in five parts that seem much like the acts in a Greek tragedy. The opening scene shows a couple dining in their room at an inn. "They 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." The second act describes how they met. The third act takes place in their bedroom in the inn. The fourth act describes their courtship. The fifth act takes place on the beach and in their lives afterward as they attempt and fail to communicate.

Mr. McEwan does a good job of capturing your attention through exploring the couple's growing tension as they move toward the consummation of their marriage. But past that point, the story seemed like a punctured balloon to me: My interest was gone. I suspect that reaction is because I didn't feel close to either character; they are more there to entertain me than to lead me into experiencing the story like the characters do.

Clearly, the story would have worked much better for me if focused around a more universal trial in marriage, such as handling both sets of parents during the birth of a first child. I also thought that Mr. McEwen played the role of the Greek chorus too often . . . telling us what was going on rather than letting us see and hear the action. The fourth part seems clearly out of place; it should have preceded the third part.

Unless you are drawn to beautiful sentences and images, I suggest you skip this book . . . it's a misdirected storytelling foray by a talented writer that is eminently avoidable.
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46 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant little book, September 1, 2007
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This book was so good-packed with history and a message. I was captivated by it.

He painted the political and social climate of the time in such a vivid manner. His insights were perfect and his historical detail was too good for words. He puts the reader back into 1962-even if the reader had not been born yet.

It begins on the wedding night of two virgins, Edward and Florence. He's ready and willing to go, but she is filled with dread. She tries to have sex with Edward out of a sense of wifely duty.

Their childhoood's are related. She is raised by emotionally distant parents, Violet and Geoffrey; and he is reared by a handicapped mother and a over-whelmed father. Both Edward and Florence try to escape their past lives with their marriage.

The ending was sad, and, I was surprised. This book is worth reading-it is a historical treasure and tells an interesting and perplexing story.
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36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A writer's writer, September 3, 2007
By 
David Scott (Columbus, OH United States) - See all my reviews
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This novel will richly reward anyone who appreciates serious literature and writing as craft. McEwan's control of his narrative is breathtaking: the first section ranks with the best-written passages I've read. The novel tells the sad story of a star-crossed couple back in 1962, young people stumbling over their own limitations and the stultifying sexual inhibition of their time. It's beautifully wrought. McEwan doesn't waste a word as his concise story works towards it's entirely appropriate conclusion. I recommend this highly to any serious reader.
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29 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time travel into wordless ages, August 8, 2007
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A marriage is about to start and then fails on square one because both antagonists don't really know what is what regarding the physical side of it, and though neither is an illiterate yokel, they don't manage to rationalize it enough to talk their way through it.
Hard to believe this is set only about 45 years ago. It reads as if it was a lot older. Some reviewers have problems with that. They seem to think this is not real. This can not be the 60s of the 20th.
But my own recollection confirms to me: this is how it was, then. The wordlessness, the embarrassment, the fear. The shame. What a breakthrough the much maligned 'sexual revolution' of a few years later was. It brought freedom for many, freedom from the paralysis of Chesil Beach. To me, this story of complete disaster in a relationship reads entirely true.
(Just in case, I don't deny that the 'sexual revolution' brought us some other trouble in its wake, but that's besides the point now. And maybe it was not all that bad after all, right.)
There is one caveat: how do we know that the woman's problems would not have been the same 10 years later? Sometimes a short term problem, i.e. the speechlessness, just paints over the long term problem. What if she couldn't have been different under any circumstances? That's a possible reading which IME does not even imply. Which does not reduce the high level of enjoyment and interest of the book.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What might have been, July 4, 2007
As an Ian McEwan virgin, I was eagerly anticipating my tryst with this book--but it turned out to be as disappointing and unsatisfying as Edward's and Florence's wedding night (well, maybe not quite).

McEwan does not merely ignore, but actually reverses, the wise "show, don't tell" advice about fiction writing. In his expository chapters about Edward's and Florence's backgrounds and courtship, he doesn't let us see much of them interacting and conversing with each other and their families; instead of fleshing them out in these sections, he gives us their inner thoughts, a panoply of geographical place names that won't mean much to readers outside the U.K. and a list of gourmet vegetables that Edward tastes for the first time at his future in-laws' dinner table: courgettes, aubergines and mangetouts.

Conversely, in the play-by-play account of the wedding-night bedroom activities, McEwan "shows" each frame of the encounter with exhaustive, sometimes clinical detail. In this area, less is often more, and although it requires greater effort to write about physical intimacy with subtlety and allusion, it can still evoke the same intense reaction in the reader--without getting the sheets so messy. Do we really need words like "perineum" and the focus on the lone pubic hair that has escaped from Florence's knickers? Since I've already given away my copy of "On Chesil Beach," I can't use exact quotes here, but suffice it to say that the description of Edward's sticky, gummy ejaculate adhering to Florence's knees and chin is over the top--almost as if the author is trying to turn off the reader as well as Florence.

The story could have ended effectively and poignantly after the couple's hopeless, near-tragic postcoital verbal battle on the beach, perhaps with a few closing thoughts from the author on the sadness and might-have-been-ness of it all. But instead, there is an anticlimactic final chapter consisting of what sound like afterthoughts, hurriedly recounting Edward's meanderings over the next 40 years. Somewhat mystifyingly, McEwan does not mention Florence's personal life after the traumatic wedding night, although he has paid equal attention to both characters until this last chapter. He does, however, offer an oblique but important clue. In a recent review of "On Chesil Beach," Christopher Hitchens concludes dismissively--and erroneously--that "Florence, a classically trained violinist, devotes the remainder of her life to a rather spinsterish role in a string quartet." Not at all. In an admiring newspaper review of a triumphant performance by that string quartet at Wigmore Hall in Oxford, the fictional reviewer singles out the exceptional playing of the first violinist, who is Florence. "She is obviously in love," writes this critic (to the best of my recollection), "not only with the music and with Mozart, but with life itself." Surely McEwan is implying that Florence, unlike Edward, has ultimately found fulfillment and happiness.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Clearly in the minority, June 18, 2007
I fully realize that as I am writing this, I am outnumbered 18-1 in the reviews of this book.

Frankly, I absolutly loathed it.

Florence and Edward don't, for a second, feel like actual human beings. I never saw any indication of why these two were "in love" or why they would ever have gotten to the point of being married.

Edward is married to a woman who pretty much recoils at intimacy and who has made it clear she doesn't want his tongue in her mouth and yet while kissing her, seems to believe she is going to...well...take him in her mouth? Florence suggests, on her wedding night, that she and Edward would be fine as long as he goes out and makes love to other women? Any of this is realistic?

The ending just caps it off. It sounds like a guy with a failed life, "talking an ex pretty" believing that it would have worked only "if".

I never got the characters, never cared about them, certainly didn't see any reason they were together and just didn't enjoy it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Horny virgin Edward marries frigid virgin Florence: a recipe for disaster., June 10, 2010
This review is from: On Chesil Beach (Paperback)
Two dysfunctional 22 year olds share their honeymoon night in a hotel. Despite his repeated declarations of love, Edward seems to have been led into the marriage more by his gonads than his heart. He desperately wants to bone Florence. She resists up to the wedding night. Then she assists, precipitating a gooey mess. She flees in horror, leaving him feeling cheated and frustrated.

They meet later in the night on the beach. But both Edward and Florence lack communications skills and are unable to resolve the conflict which arises. Edward takes the high and mighty position, feeling that he was cheated out of his marital right to a bonk. (In fact he would have had his prize if he could have controlled himself and in any case, being a 22 year old, he could probably have recharged within the hour - so no big deal really.) He is content to let Florence run away. They never see eachother again despite the fact that they each consider, years later, that they each lost the love of their life.

What is the moral of the tale? Perhaps it is that true love comes but once in a life time and should not be squandered. Or might it be an example of the tragedy of lovers who fail because they cannot communicate effectively. Maybe the story is an example of the destructiveness of pride.

But how credible is the novel? Can we really believe that after Florence runs away she and Edward never contact eachother again? No letter from either party a week or two later, after cooling down? Or was Edward insincere in his protestations of love, deciding that the prospect of a bonk was remote, he lost interest?

Was it such a tragedy that they did break up and never saw eachother again? The author tells us that neither party ever loved another person again as much as they did eachother. Does that mean to say that they would have been happier if they worked out their differences and stayed together? It would be fair to say they were doomed to a bad relationship from the start, so different were they from one another. Cutting loss on the wedding night might have been the optimal solution. Edward felt remorse in his sixties, when his testosterone level was no doubt lower. But how much is that sentimentality? He couldn't have been satisfied with her. Or could he, if he was a bit more patient?

Indeed, the novel claims merit in being provocative. The characters are interesting if not entirely credible. On the other hand, the author's prose style is often prolix. He dwells. He labours, intoxicated with his own philological exhibitionism. Whether you enjoy his style or not is a matter of taste. I'm not sure it's to mine.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars McEwan's Latest Sketch, May 30, 2007
This review is from: On Chesil Beach (Hardcover)
Like many of McEwan's books, this one was difficult to hate/difficult to love. Difficult to hate as McEwan is one of the most skillful writers in English right now--he writes sentences that are among the most elegant going. At the same time, it was difficult for me to get the sense of this book as a fully realized work, as On Chesil Beach is indeed a sketch, rather than a novel. The story concerns a pair of newlyweds preparing for their first night as man and wife. Like many of McEwan's early works, On Chesil Beach deals very intimately with the vagaries and raw emotions that are at the center of any sexual relationship. In this particular case, you are presented with a couple who are deeply in love with one another, but whose respective attitudes to their imminent conjugal congress could not be further removed from each other. The eventual confrontation is told with startling detail and finely observed nuance. Yet the book is repeatedly interjected with exhaustive exposition that feels largely superfluous. Ultimately, I must say that On Chesil Beach irritated me far less than the equally well written Saturday. At the same time, this work can only be considered a minor accomplishment.

While I am at it, I wanted to make anyone interested in this book aware of Jonathan Lethem's EXCELLENT review in the New York Times Book Review. Lethem has summed up just what makes McEwan McEwan in an incredibly succinct and accurate fashion. Like much of Lethem's criticism, it is spot on.
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On Chesil Beach
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Paperback - June 10, 2008)
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