"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Monday, August 19, 2013

Review #55: On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

We come in to On Chesil Beach during Florence and Edward's honeymoon dinner. It is the first time they are truly alone together, dining in a hotel room, with the bed looming large in the other room. They're both virgins, and while Edward is eagerly anticipating consummating the marriage, Florence is more reluctant. In fact, Florence is horrified by what is expected of her, and although she wants to fulfill what she considers her marital duties - and in fact there are even moments when the reader thinks Florence may be feeling the beginning stirrings of desire - she doesn't think she can. Things come to a head in one pivotal, brutally uncomfortable scene. Florence flees to the beach, Edward follows her, and they fall into the age-old trap of lashing out to protect themselves.

I have to admit that this was not an easy read. It was short, and spare, but it was difficult to get through. I felt like a voyeur, like I was suddenly privy to some very private, very intimate situation. I don't know as I've ever felt as uncomfortable reading a book as I did when I was reading this. Florence's apprehension was palpable. I dreaded what lay ahead for her. And I felt equally bad for Edward. His excitement and nervousness rang very true, and I knew that things were going to end disastrously, but I couldn't look away.

In the end, On Chesil Beach is about more than two inexperienced virgins on their wedding night. It's about communication, about missed moments, about fear, about pride, about love, about heartache and heartbreak, and about how we have to listen, really listen to people, and take a chance, or else we may miss the very thing we need most in life.

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