On Chesil Beach – A Book Review

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

I am reviewing another novella today. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan was the perfect book to read after reading The Sense of an Ending just because I was already steeped into the time period the story is set in (the early 1960s).

This is the story about a young in love couple who are about to face their first night together…in effect, their wedding night. Now, the assumption would be that these two virgins would be all anticipation, but instead there is a lot of fear and anxiety. Will the young lovers be able to cope and adjust with each other?

Such a simple premise, but the novel strikes a deep chord. Indeed, I think the plight of the newly weds is such a universal one that it is bound to invoke wince-inducing memories in most people. I was cringing while reading certain details in the book.

Although the book does seem to focus on the sex only, there is a deeper thread running throughout about the differences between the couple and the lack of communication. What was thought in the mind, what was said out loud, and what was understood were all completely different things.

The book moves back and forth between the goings on of the actual wedding night and the background of the couple providing enough back-story to understand the feelings of both.

Unfortunately, the emphasis on the couple’s shyness felt a little out-of-place for the time period. They were so awkward I couldn’t believe this was the early 60s. It sounded more like the 1800s!

Apart from this one little quibble, I have to say I loved this book. I loved the way Ian McEwan got into the heads of the couple and writes about them with so much compassion and empathy. This really is a masterpiece…not in the same way that Atonement is a masterpiece, but in a much smaller, intimate way.

Don’t be put off by the subject matter of the book. This book is much, much more than the sum of its parts.

Thanks to Random House for sending me a copy of this book for review. This is one book to read and savor, and I am definitely going to re-read this again.