Rating: 8 out of 10
Summary: Ian McEwan’s emotionally charged novel follows an inexperienced young couple through their disastrous wedding night at a Dorset hotel in 1962. Very much in love, Edward and Florence are predictably nervous, but for different reasons. He longs to consummate the marriage; she is repelled by the very idea. Locked in their inhibitions and utterly unable to discuss their fears and needs, they are victims not only of personal experience but of a distinctively British brand of repression destined to crumble in the sexual revolution. One of McEwan’s greatest skills is his ability to limn the precise, irrevocable moment in which life changes forever. And although that moment is telegraphed within the first few pages of this rueful tale, it loses none of its tragic, devastating force when it occurs. Brief and elegiac, On Chesil Beach spotlights the talents of a literary grand master at the top of his game.
(Thank you, barnesandnoble.com)
I liked: The almost dreaminess of the writing style. It felt like a dream, sometimes. The well-handled flashbacks between present and past events. The way the chapters and novel itself was structured. The characters were real; real people with real talents and faults.
I did not like: Florence and Edward. But I really don’t know. I didn’t hate them or anything. There is nothing wrong with the way the author wrote the characters; as I said before, they are very real and three dimensional. The personalities of Florence and Edward themselves frustrated me at times. If only they’d been able to communicate better. If only they’d talked to each other about their separate fears; if only they’d trusted each other as wholly as they’d each thought they did. The ending of the book is one big If Only. If only this, if only that… I shouldn’t put this under the heading of “I did not like”, because it wasn’t that I thought it detracted or took away from the novel in any way, because I’m sure the author wanted us to feel the hopelessness and If Only aspect of this book. He succeeded, it was just so frustratingly hard not to be able to reach into the pages and give Florence and Edward a good shaking each.
I felt: A bit of information on the book first: Florence and Edward’s wedding night spans a whole 99 pages in and of itself. The whole book is 203 pages; the other half of the novel deals with Florence and Edward’s past history. I felt that—well, I understood Florence’s shyness. I understood that, but I didn’t understand why, if she trusted Edward so much, if she felt like he was her true love, why couldn’t she at least give him a hint, or just come right out and tell him her fears? But that’s not true either, when I say I didn’t understand that aspect. While reading it, I understood why she couldn’t tell him. The way the author described her and her life and her personality, I understood why she had such a hard time on her wedding night. But to put it into words, the Why into words, I can’t. There were these two passages in the novel from Florence’s point-of-view, that were so perfect, so relatable and I read them and I just wanted to copy them out and be like, “Yes! This is how I’ve felt, my thoughts, written by some guy I’ve never met; this Florence girl and I, we understand each other.”
A month ago they had told each other they were in love, and that was both a thrill and afterward, for her, a cause of one night of half waking, of vague dread that she had been impetuous and let go of something important, given something away that was not really hers to give. But it was too interesting, too new, too flattering, too deeply comforting to resist, it was a liberation to be in love and say so, and she could only let herself go deeper (73-74).
[Florence:] “You’re always pushing me, pushing me, wanting something out of me. We can never just be. We can never just be happy. There’s this constant pressure. There’s always something more that you want out of me. This endless wheedling”… It was his tongue pushing deeper into her mouth, his hand going further under her skirt or blouse, his hand tugging hers toward his groin, a certain way he had of looking away from her and going silent. It was the brooding expectation of her giving more, and because she didn’t, she was a disappointment for slowing everything down… Every concession she made increased the demand, and then the disappointment… She wanted to be in love and be herself. But to be herself, she had to say no all the time. And then she was no longer herself (177-178).
And that reminds me of Health class in school, or Sex Education, or whatever they call it, and sometimes they do the little skits or whatever that go like this:
Boy: Honey I love you please have sex with me!
Girl: Oh, no…
Boy: Please, I’ll love you so much more if you do!
Girl: Oh, I don’t know…
Boy: Come on, it’ll be cool, I promise, I love you so much!
Girl: Oh, I guess if you LOVE ME then it’s alright…
And then everybody watching the skit rolls their eyes, and all the girls (and I) think: that girl’s a stupid idiot; what kind of retard would believe what that guy said? I’d never give in to something like that. I’m not stupid. I’ll know it when it happens, and I’ll avoid it. I’m not stupid.
But it’s not really like that. It’s not so cookie-cutter straight and perfect, and I think that’s what leads so many people wrong sometimes. It’s not a script like I wrote above; it’s not clear and simple. It’s like Ian McEwan wrote, it’s under the surface and unclear and foggy and confusing and hormones don’t help.
ANYWAY, the novel ends quite sadly. Florence and Edward separate. They are unable to reconcile after their wedding night, and they never, ever see each other again. Edward goes onto travel and he meets many other women; he marries somebody else for three and half years. Florence, a talented musician, is often in the newspapers as a brilliant violinist. It ends with Edward’s remorse that he ever let a girl like Florence slip through his fingers.
I think what I learned from this novel (it feels weird to call it a novel; this book feels more like something right in between poetry and a novel, for some reason. It just feels that way) is to not hold back. Life is too short and you can make too many stupid mistakes; a word not said, a gesture not made. Just do it. Don’t stifle yourself and ruin something good in the process.