On Chesil Beach
By Ian McEwan
Imagine, if you will, a man and a woman on their wedding night. Now, although it may be hard to imagine for those of you out there who aren’t Mormon, try to imagine what it would be like if that wedding night were your FIRST night together. And so begins the story of Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan.
It is 1962. Florence and Edward are in love and this is their wedding day. McEwan guides the reader through the emotions of each of the characters in turn. Edward, who has waited for this moment since the first day he laid eyes on beautiful Florence. In fact, it is for this moment that he has waited his whole life. And then there is Florence. Florence, who is filled with fear and dread and disgust. Florence who acknowledges her obligation and tries as hard as she might to swallow the bile that seems to creep up her throat whenever she even thinks about what is to occur after the wedding ceremony.
The happy couple sit in their honeymoon suite at a hotel on Chesil Beach and slowly pretend to eat their wedding dinner. Small talk is the order of the day. Edward contemplating how he might begin the…ahem….proceedings. Florence contemplating how she might avoid them.
The author flashes back through the couple’s courtship; from the moment they first meet, through every moment that Edward attempts a physical advance toward Florence, through every moment that Florence grants Edward a token reward for his efforts. By the time their wedding day has arrived, they really are nowhere near the level of intimacy one would normally assume in this situation. It is a recipe for disaster.
The characters of this book were quite intoxicating. Each manages to be narcissistic and eager-to-please at turn. The alternating selflessness and selfishness of each of them clearly demonstrate that neither character really knows who they are. If this book weren’t so well-written, I would tell you to avoid it merely to avoid the horribly sad and depressing ending. But McEwan’s storytelling ability is quite thought-out and it is, generally speaking, worth the read just for the quality of that.