Review: On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach
By Ian McEwan
(Anchor, Paperback, 9780307386175, June 2008, 224pp.)

The Short of It:

Stripped of all pretense, these characters are pushed to surrender to what they know is true.

The Rest of It:

In 1962, Florence and Edward celebrate their wedding in a hotel on the Dorset coast. Yet as they dine, the expectation of their marital duties weighs over them. And unbeknownst to both, the decisions they make this night will resonate throughout their lives.

McEwan is known for exquisite prose and On Chesil Beach is no exception. As the newlyweds dine and anticipate the consummation of their marriage, it’s clear to the reader that all is not right in the world of Florence and Edward. Love is most certainly present, yet there is a delicate balance between Edward and Flo that tips precariously as the meal progresses and before you know it, dread has made its appearance. 

As the tension rises, and the moment of consummation nears, we are told in flashbacks how the couple came to be. In part, this knowledge of the couple makes their situation even more tragic. When you ask someone to marry you, you assume that you know everything about them, but this is not the case with Edward and Flo. Insecurities exist that neither are aware of until it’s too late.

I love McEwan’s writing for a lot of reasons, but what I love the most is the level of detail within his stories. He puts you there, with the characters as they are experiencing their awkward moment and although it’s uncomfortable, it’s impossible to look away. I tend to lose myself when I read his writing and that to me, is the sign of a good novel. That, and the fact that his characters are often forced to deal with truth and the tragic consequences of their actions.

I’ve read a few of McEwan’s other novels and although this one is incredibly short, it still manages to be a very powerful read with characters that you can easily relate to.

Source: Borrowed

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26 thoughts on “Review: On Chesil Beach”

  1. I think I may need to start with one of his shorter books, but then again maybe his style is just not for me – I don’t know. I tried reading Atonement but I got bogged down, was bored and gave up.

    1. He puts so much detail into his stories, that some can feel bogged down, but if you keep with it, you are rewarded in the end. At least, that has been my experience. This one is short, Alyce and if you enjoy looking at a marriage from all sides, then you’d enjoy this one.

  2. I have had varying success with McEwan. While I felt that Atonement was probably one of the best books I have read in the last ten years, Amsterdam was probably one of the worst. This doesn’t turn me off though, and since reading both, I have bought quite a few of his other works to read at some point as well. I am glad to hear that this one stood out and was a great read. Your review bodes well for me!

    1. I loved Atonement, but The Innocent was a strange read and almost turned me off to him for good. It seemed different than his other books. Almost like there was a bit of stuff added just for shock value. I haven’t read Amsterdam yet.

    1. The writing is lovely. I heard an interview with McEwan about the book and he said that when he read it out loud, he got a lot of giggles. How at first, he thought, “Well, it’s not funny” but then he thought the audience was just uncomfortable enough to giggle in nervousness. That’s when it struck him how real the characters were.

  3. I loved this book! Have you read Solar yet? I think that is his newest. It’s on my tbr pile but I keep skipping over it for other books.

  4. I was entranced with this book. It was so totally heart-breaking, but the writing was gorgeous. I didn’t feel quite as warm towards Saturday. It was good, but just wandered too much.

    1. The story was heartbreaking in so many ways, yet didn’t you feel relieved too? The situation was just so uncomfortable and they loved each other!

    1. Having read a few of his other books, I’d say that On Chesil Beach would be a good one to start with. It’s short, but it gives you enough of his writing for you to get a feel for his style.

  5. Ian McEwan is an author I always mean to read more by but seem to forget when I’m on a buying spree or obtaining books in some way. I need to make an author list and put it somewhere I can’t miss it! lol

    I love his writing style and how well he knows his characters. I’m intrigued by this story particularly the background of Edward and Flo’s marriage. I can imagine how increasingly awkward and uncomfortable their dinner gets as it nears the end…you’ve hooked me on this one, Ti.

    1. These days, most couples are pretty familiar with each other by the time they get married, but this couple is not and boy is it awkward 🙂

  6. I love a short book that packs a punch. I think that’s how you really know an author is good – they don’t need a lot of dense writing to get their point across. I’ll have to look into this one!

  7. I have read a couple of McEwan’s books so I have been curious about this one. I’m glad to hear that you liked this one…maybe I will try this one on audio!

  8. I read this quite a while ago — long ago that I’ve forgotten most of the details — but I do remember loving it and thinking it packed quite a punch despite being a slim novel.

  9. I have a weird relationship with Ian McEwan. I try over and over again to read his books and never seem to get into them, but when I do I love them. I have only read Enduring Love and Atonement so far. Every now and again I try and read Saturday but never make it past the first of chapters. I do own this one, so maybe Ill take a stab at this one instead next time i feel like giving him a go

  10. Atonement is the only one of McEwan’s books I’ve read, but I seem to be collecting them. Purchased On Chesil Beach at the library book sale a year ago, and Amsterdam and Saturday before that. Don’t know what I’m waiting for… this sounds beautiful!

  11. I just found this one so frustrating! I loved Atonement and I can’t fault McEwan’s writing style, but I cannot make myself pick up another of his books a year after I finished this one. Glad you enjoyed it!

  12. I was astounded by the tension created in words inside this short little book. I have a crush on McEwan and need to read something else but now I’m afraid I won’t like anything else! (I read Atonement and loved it, but so far, nothing else. I can’t decide!)

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