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.