On Chesil Beach
“Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
Up to then there’d only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.” Philip Larkin’s ‘Annus Mirabilis’
I found this little extract in a “Guardian” review of this very book (and in relation to the book), and I thought it summarises so well the conflict of Edward and Florence, that I just had to copy it 🙂 .
“On Chesil Beach” is a short novel about those times when sex was something you hid, and discussing it wasn’t even on the table. It seems that, when Mr. McEwan starts with this…it just can’t end well. Florence and Edward are a couple of virginal newlyweds, spending their first night together in a little hotel on Chesil Beach. After a slightly awkward meal, when local boys doing part time jobs as waiters serve them a “nuptial dinner” (with some side comments from on the bad cuisine England was blessed with back then 😉 ), they seem to start making moves towards the bedroom. It’s not the action that captivates you, it’s the way Mr. McEwan captures their reactions to the tiniest moves and changes in the environment or atmosphere – you actually are in the room with them, and you are half compassionate, half frustrated by the way the both missinterpret eachother.
The story of their night interferes with flashbacks of their lives before: their first meeting and the mythology they created around it to seem like “fate”, their most memorable dates and their families, with good, bad and unspoken secrets. Edward’s mother was diagnosed as “mentally ill” (in a time when such a disease wasn’t really shown a lot of understanding) and he and his sisters were raised by a dedicated father, while Florence’s seemingly cultivated, rich, perfect family has a skeleton is its closet, though its existence is only suggested, never spoken of (perhaps because Florence could not even bring herself to admit to it).
As things start to unravel, they realise that their relationship had been based so much on politeness and social convenience, that, when they see eachother as they really are, their connection is broken beyond repair. Their lives go on separately, and even if they remain “the greatest love” to eachother, they never get in touch after their wedding night. Something along the lines of “love is not enough”.
I liked the book; it’s a relaxing read, but it doesn’t cross the border into being too easy. And Mr. McEwan’s attention to detail in the description of the smallest twitch of the skin or the strayest thought is very…engulfing 😀