On Chesil Beach Review
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The tragedy of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach revolves completely on, to put it delicately, a man arriving too soon on his wedding night. If you giggled at this, don’t feel bad; I did too. But this awkward event sends off a chain reaction that had me in tears by the last page.

The book opens in 1962, with Edward and Florence on their wedding night. They’re both young—just 21 years old—and both are nervous for the intimate event awaiting them after dinner. Edward is afraid he’ll fire off too soon, having done so in the past. Florence is terrified of the process itself, despite having read a book for young wives to help prepare her. When the inevitable happens, Edward’s fear comes true. Florence can’t hide her disgust, and she flees the room for the solitude of Chesil Beach, where the core of the novel plays out.

Ian McEwan masterfully illustrates the lasting effect of a single event. One of his most popular novels, Atonement, centers on a lie told by a young girl and how it changes the lives of those involved. On Chesil Beach is no different, with an embarrassing event changing the lives of its participants forever. Though the first half often had me giggling immaturely and pausing incredulously at the sexual phrases, the second half has all the beauty and tragedy that readers have come to expect from McEwan.

Once Edward and Florence confront one another on the beach, you’ll feel as though you’re watching an accident in slow motion. You’ll see what’s happening, but you’ll only be able to watch in horror. As the two argue, the deeper issues involved begin to come to the surface.

The story is rich in character development. Woven between the chapters that are set during the wedding night are sections about Edward and Florence’s back-stories. While the background information can be tedious at times—especially with suspense building about the characters’ fate—it will give you a clear understanding of the newlyweds. This makes the novel’s ending all the more dramatic.

On Chesil Beach is a quick read, both because it’s a shorter novel and because it’s suspenseful enough to keep you reading. While the first half had me wondering if I could take it seriously, the second half proved to be truly heartrending. And although it may not end the way you want it to, it’s satisfying nonetheless.

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