On Chesil Beach

It is July 1962. Florence 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.

I listened to this novel read by the author, Ian McEwan, with alternating intrigue and disdain. At times, it seemed so melodramatic I couldn’t bear it. At others, I sympathized completely with each of the couple’s fears and insecurities.

We follow Florence and Edward through their wedding night, interwoven with stories of their youth, until they face their final confrontation at the beach. It is as inexorable as the wave slipping off the shore on its return to the sea and just as unlikely to be salvaged.

Like all good love stories, one is left wondering what could have been.
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36 thoughts on “On Chesil Beach”

  1. Love the picture! This also one of my favourite books but sounds like you were a little undecided? I think perhaps I would enjoy it less if it was audio as it's such a delicate interplay of emotions a voice would feel somehow intrusive?!

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  2. First of all I love the photograph. I remember a lot of buzz about this one about a year or so ago. There seemed to be so much hype around it that I waited to read it. Now your review is reminding me that I should and that enough time has passed for me to do it. I have a funny thing about not wanting to read the most popular book…must be the rebel in me!

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  3. Bought this book on a whim and its still sitting unread on my bookshelf. After your review, I may have to move it up in my TBR list. Loved the way you added the sand and shells for the photo- what a lovely touch! Great post, Bellezza!By the by, I'm really looking forward to the Japanese Literature Challenge 4!!

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  4. Awesome picture! I loved On Chesil Beach, but I'm a bit apprehensive when I heard you listened to McEwan's reading. Not sure if it'd make a better experience.

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  5. It must have been a short book! There were only 4 CDs in the audio package. I liked that it was read by the author himself, as he would especially know where to put the inflections. But, I think anything longer would have driven me crazy! I couldn't deal with Florence's anxiety much more than I did.

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  6. You bring up a fascinating point; audio is not my favorite way to experience a book, but I was at the library picking out CDs for a friend of mine who'd just had eye surgery. I saw this, and figured I'd listen to it on the way to work. It was wonderful, in a way to listen to Ian read his own words, but when you said it may be intrusive, I found that very applicable to my experience. The interplay of emotions (great phrase!) could have done with less verbalization.

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  7. Kathleen, I completely agree about not wanting to read what everyone else is reading. That's what kept me from The Help for so long! Also, I was really taken with Atonement, but not his second novel, Saturday, so I wanted to let some time slip between that and Chesil Beach. Still, Atonement remains my favorite. And, if I ever find Briony, I'm going to give her a sound slapping.

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  8. It's probably better to read to yourself, Mee. Listening is not my favorite medium. (How ironic that my class of children is required to do it! I try to break that up for them a lot!)

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  9. This novel (I read it) really annoyed me. I felt like grabbing these two kids and yelling at them! "see what happens when you don't COMMUNICATE!!!" aaahh!I switched between hating him and hating her. I don't think that was McEwan's intention but my god! Pull it TOGETHER! It's JUST sex, not a lobotomy. *sigh*…. maybe my reactions to books I read are sometimes too aggressive..

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  10. Your reaction makes me smile; I was almost violent when I read Atonement. Maybe McEwan just has that way…and, I agree with you. A little communication would have been most helpful to these two.

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  11. Like Rachel, I felt the same way about the characters, but then the story itself, I really loved. The way McEwan pulled the ending, it was a punch in the stomach, and it was what made the book so successful for me.

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  12. The picture hooked me into reading the review. I've read several on this book and not the book! not yet. But what made me laugh was your comment above that said if you found Briony (from ATONEMENT), you'd give her a "sound slapping." I couldn't see the movie after reading that book, which evoked such sharp images, it played directly as a movie as I read. And I doubt the Hollywood version could it justice.Anyway, maybe I"ll save THE BEACH for my vacation this summer, which will not be by a beach.

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  13. Here's how bad it is: when I saw the lovely photo with the sand and shells, and the title, On Chesil Beach, I burst into tears. It's what's happening to us down here now. Even though the oil isn't everywhere, it is coming, and we know it, and the sense of despair is flowing through the psyche of the affected states like the plumes of oil drifting in the water column.I'd love to save Chesil Beach for a vacation read, too, but saving the beaches may loom larger. Never thought I'd run into something that would make a hurricane seem like a walk in the park! That may be the ironic upside of all this. 😉

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  14. I really liked this book (though it seems to be hit or miss for me with McEwan). How nice to be able to hear it the way the author intended — it's not often you can do that. (It was a short book.)

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  15. Oh, you're so right: reading that book was like watching a film. And I've never been so mad at a character in my life as I was at Briony. "Innocent little girl" my rear! How about "conniving, manipulative, selfish brat"?

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  16. Linda, your comment leaves me breathless. I'm so sorry for the situation which is occuring most particularly in your part of the world. I know how much we love trees and beaches, you especially with your boats, and I'm so sad.

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  17. I hate when I do that: give a book away without reading it only to find I should've read it when it's too late. Don't buy it again! Try the library. 😉 (Which is from where my edition came.)

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  18. Amazing photo… although of all the McEwan's I've read, I have to say this is my least favourite. The story didn't grab me: Florence was slightly annoying as was Edward, and while the ending was worth reading the book, like Rachel, I thought the characters deserved a good yelling. As for Briony – "conniving, manipulative, selfish brat” sounds about right!

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  19. It's funny how McEwan seems to cause all sorts of negative emotions in us, towards his characters, yet we keep reading his books (at least, I do!)

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  20. I have this book yet haven't read it yet. I like McEwan a lot.P.S. You have such a wonderful blog to visit you is a pleasure for the eyes! I am thinking of changing mine???

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