Saturday, January 5, 2013

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On Chesil BeachOn Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first sentence of Ian McEwan's short novel, On Chesil Beach reads, “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.” My first impression of these words was that McEwan's book would be about clumsy sex. And in some ways I found that I was right. But the word “conversation” in that sentence is far more important that it first seemed. Although a huge portion of the novel is dedicated to a very detailed description of Edward and Florence's awkward sexual experience, I think it is fair to say the book is really about their dysfunctional communication.

I recently read Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. In that book there was also a description of the first sexual experience between two virgins. But in Follett's novel the lovers spoke to each other and helped each other through the barriers of their inexperience. In McEwan's work Florence and Edward have different desires and very different assumptions. They seem to be as right for each other as any two people can be, but they approach their relationship with only concern about themselves. Neither of them tries to understand what the other is feeling. At one point in the book McEwan describes Florence's desire with the following sentence. “She wanted to be in love and be herself.” I think it is fair to say they shared that desire and that was the problem.

McEwan's language is perfect. I listened to the audio version of the book and thought it was very well read. (McEwan does the reading himself.) It's a perfect book for someone who wants a well written, short read by an author with a good feel for human emotions and failings.

Steve Lindahl - author of Motherless Soul

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