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Sonoma County Gazette
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Book Review - On Chesil Beach

May 22, 2017
by Diane McCurdy, Film and Book Reviews


Probably not too many people have heard about this novel, but they will soon because whenever a book is transformed into a movie people become curious about the source and gradually that source material will creep up the best-seller lists. On Chesil Beach was written by Ian McEwan who is known mostly through his most successful work, Atonement. Atonement received great critical acclaim and was also made into a well-respected film that was nominated for an Oscar in 2008.  The pivotal event in On Chesil Beach centers around a disastrous wedding night.  There are flashbacks leading up to it and events that happened after but this nocturnal post-nuptial bedding is the engine that drives the plot.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwanIt is 1962, just as the sexual revolution is brewing when Florence and Edward meet.  They are immediately drawn to one another.  She is from an upper-class family with a mother who is a philosophy teacher while his mother is brain damaged from an accident.  His father is a tradesman.  Her father is a corporate business man.  However, the class distinction does not present a problem and both families approve of the match.   Florence and Edward are both educated and talented.  He is an avid student of history and she is an accomplished violinist.  

Perhaps Edward should have known but he interpreted Florence's aversion to anything physical as endearing modesty and he loves her so much he is willing to wait.  They have a traditional church wedding. They arrive at the honeymoon suite at a Georgian hotel near the ocean.  Their dinner is served.  Neither is hungry. Both are nervous.  Both are virgins.  For Florence this does not seem too unusual but for Edward it does seem a little odd until one considers that he has spent the last several years at the height of his youthful passion lusting for the lovely Flo.  The marital bed looms in the background.

The next scene is almost medically and anatomically correct.  It is neither pornographic nor titillating.  It is quite the opposite.  It is uncomfortable almost grotesque and ultimately sad.  

Florence's reticence, actual revulsion is not the product of post-Victorian mores or good girl coyness or even of religious conviction.  It is beyond.  It is a pathological dread and loathing of sex.  She honestly loves Edward but cannot give him what he has a right to expect.

McEwan's style gives the reader little dialogue.   Mostly there is a psychological, inner monologue of ruminations shifting from one character to another.  It is amazing how the author is able to delve into the female mystique.

The film is now in pre-production with Carey Mulligan set to star.  Miss Mulligan is a perfect casting choice as she exudes both attractiveness and innocence.  It will be interesting to see how the director handles the wedding night scene.


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