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A Novel Of Remarkable Depth And Poignancy From One Of The Most Acclaimed Writers Of Our TimeIt Is JulyFlorence Is A Talented Musician Who Dreams Of A Career On The Concert Stage And Of The Perfect Life She Will Create With Edward, An Earnest Young History Student At University College Of London, Who Unexpectedly Wooed And Won Her Heart Newly Married That Morning, Both Virgins, Edward And Florence Arrive At A Hotel On The Dorset Coast At Dinner In Their Rooms They Struggle To Suppress Their Worries About The Wedding Night To Come Edward, Eager For Rapture, Frets Over Florence S Response To His Advances And Nurses A Private Fear Of Failure, While Florence S Anxieties Run Deeper She Is Overcome By Sheer Disgust At The Idea Of Physical Contact, But Dreads Disappointing Her Husband When They Finally Lie Down Together In The Honeymoon Suite Ian McEwan Has Caught With Understanding And Compassion The Innocence Of Edward And Florence At A Time When Marriage Was Presumed To Be The Outward Sign Of Maturity And Independence On Chesil Beach Is Another Masterwork From McEwan A Story Of Lives Transformed By A Gesture Not Made Or A Word Not Spoken AlmostA 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 ofAtonement , 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 asocially 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 , 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 I saw the movie last night With one exception, though, I will have to put my comments as a spoiler, for those who haven t already read the book view spoiler The photography was excellent, especially in evoking the loneliness of that pebble beach The sense of period was uncanny, not just in visual details but also practical ones It s in the book too, but seeing the unspeakable awfulness of that honeymoon dinner melon slice with glac cherry, and overcooked roast beef with mixed veg slammed me with repellent recognition The leads, Billy Hawle and Saoirse Ronan, were both good, if just a smidgen too old But also and this is what matters too present. The scene in the hotel bedroom soon became excruciating to watch as the camera returned to it again and again Not that it was inappropriate or in any way pornographic But the reader manages his own balance between the psychological damage to these two young people and the clumsy physical act in which it is played out The cinemagoer has to accept the director s balance, and loses a dimension as a result.The screenplay was by McEwan himself I would need to go back to check, but my impression is that, in contrast to the usual approach of trimmming a novel to make a movie, the author has taken his own trim novella and expanded it I certainly learned a lotof the back story than I recall from the book I am not sure it was all relevant, however Edward s family was certainly colorful, but the knowledge did not help me understand his honeymoon problems any better Although still only hinted at, the relationship between Florence and her father seemed muchsignificant than anything I had picked up the book As a result, in terms of the baggage that each brings to the marriage, the focus shifts almost entirely to Florence, as the victim of specific trauma in addition to the general repressed atmosphere of the time Given her difficulties with physical sex, I don t understand why McEwan plunged her straight away into an apparently successful marriage with somebody else how did that work any better Indeed, the filling out of the later lives of the characters is weaker than the rest of this generally strong movie hide spoiler i read this book in one sitting, on a plane from l.a to nyc, and it just knocked my socks off and i came up with a scenerio imagine if i was flying cross country for some kind of mcewanesque purpose suppose last time i had been in new york I had met a girl, had spent only a few hours with her, but came back changed i walked around los angeles buzzed, different, everything slightly altered, colored with that feeling alright, yeah, it sounds stupid, but go with me and mcewan on this what if i just couldn t get her outta my head i mean what if this girl was just perfect, like so ridiculously smart and funny and beautiful and just had that ineffable thing that only very very few people that you ever meet in your life have i mean, what if, prick atheist that i am, i just knew that this was something important does one behave cautiously and cower before the impossibility and impracticality of a geographically challenged love affair does one cower before doubt and fear and insecurity and the unknown and the possiblity of failure or does one shove all that useless stuff aside and burst forward, chest out and fists clenched, and grab one s fate by the throat rather than be content as attendant lord well this is the stuff of mcewan s fiction he s obsessed with that one moment and all the various possibilites which extend outward into time and space whether it be a shared glance while hanging from the dangling ropes of a quickly ascending hot air balloon or the reaction to a disastrous night of na ve lovemaking or being attacked by two canine rapists seriously or, as in my case, a magical but unrealistic night spent knocking around lower east side bars and one can t help but wonder, in reading his books, if one were put in the place of one of mcewan s protagonists, how he she would react as per my imaginary scenerio would one go for it or would it be smarter to think with the mind over the heart you want what you can t have, grass is always greener, love is a biological imperative necessary for survival of the species , to consider the negatives 3000 miles is a lot of space between , to be practical plenty of girls in los angeles would i go for it would i jump on a plane for her would i risk looking like a crazy person would i risk rejection and heartbreak would it be the smart fuck smart move to get involved with someone i would rarely see in person would i throw caution fuck caution to the wind and make some kind of grand gesture to a girl i ve only actually seen in the flesh about 4 days in my life would i blow off the world and take her down to, say, south america for a week or perhaps i would as so many of mcewan s tragic protagonists do take the reasonable route and allow fate to determine my course hmmm. We know the story in advance from the book jacket a disastrous wedding night Both are virgins Young people will find that hard to believe these days, but this is set in the 1960 s As the author tells us, the pill was only a rumor They had no opportunity for intimacy while dating While in school in London he lived in a room in the house of a strict aunt She lived in a women s rooming house with a dorm mother keeping watch and no men allowed.We learn about their families and upbringing how they met and how they dated Both are intellectuals He s studying to be a professor of history her life is music and playing the violin They areor less in love and they are getting married because it s what you do This was still the era when to be young was a social encumbrance, a mark of irrelevance, a faintly embarrassing condition for which marriage was the beginning of a cure The woman suspects there is something wrong with her she knew nothing about sex, just what she read in a how to guide She was terrified and repelled by all the talk of fluids and penetration He s anxious and fumbling He mistakes her moans of disgust for signs of pleasure It was a good story and it kept my attention, but I found the book a bit dragged out Maybe it should have been a short story This is my sixth McEwan Enduring Love, Nutshell, Amsterdam, Saturday and Atonement and only the last I rated a five Photo of Chesil Beach from The first thing you should know about this book is that, like the other Ian McEwan books I ve read, it is about the most uncomfortable, awkward, and squirmy thing you ll ever read Don t believe me What if I told you that the book which is 200 pages long only covers about two hours of time the first two hours of a newlywed couple s honeymoon in which they fumble to consummate their marriage And that both of them have very embarrassing sexual dysfunctions Well, that s what the book is about The reader looks on helplessly and squirmingly as two virgins, Edward and Florence, sit in a hotel room on the beach embarrassed out of their minds It s 1962, on the cusp of the sexual revolution, and the pair have neither the presence of mind or even the vocabulary to communicate openly with each other There is only a handful of words spoken until the very last chapter of the book it was tough for me not to use the word climax here, but I try to stay classy For the first 50 pages or so I was convinced that McEwan was just selling a freak show to us again that he s a popular author because people like reading about sex and other people s weirdo sex problems Who needs a plot or well executed sentences when we could have incest, brain damage, erectile dysfunction, and a 30,000 word sex scene Bring on other peoples guilt and shame But I kept reading and I m glad I did Through a number of seamless flashbacks, the history of the couple unfolded before me so slowly and steadily and adeptly that I am now convinced that Ian McEwan is a genius A dirty old man genius It made me think back to a few years ago when Ben and I were lucky enough to interview Jim Shepard, Ben s favorite contemporary writer and a visiting author at the University of Montana visiting because Ben requested him, no less We sat in the Union Club sipping straight whiskeys and Jim Shepard told us that the truly great books he was specifically talking about Marilynne Robinson s Housekeeping are books that are constantly revelatory And that s exactly what I though about On Chesil Beach Everyone we re talking about the characters and me were learning and understandinganddeeply with each page It felt like a blossoming or, to be less lame and corny, like a picture very slowly coming into focus Many times when authors reveal information it seems cheap or as if they were withholding it from you in order to keep you reading dime mystery book stuff But McEwan s real gift is in the natural and subtle ways that he presents information to the reader In fact, many of the biggest revelations in the book are never said outright, but only seep into the story until you understand each one as truth It s really pretty well done So if you can handle cringing non stop for three or four hours and have a strong stomach, you should pick up this book And let me know if you can figure out exactly how McEwan does what he does, because I d like to know about it.