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On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach sat on my pile for a year. I’m glad that I returned all of my library books to the library last month, because now I’m reading more of my own book. I took a break from reading and blogging, and choose to read novella or books that run less than 200 pages.  It’s a amazing actually, thin books can be good read, and there are many of them. Due to the recent change in my reading habit, I now take my time and savour each passage in the book and read a lot better.

Now about the book…

In 1962, Edward and Florence Mayhew married in a chapel and took off to a beach side resort in Dorset coast for a honeymoon getaway. They ate through an anxious dinner together, knowing what is coming and expected at the end of the night, and when the newly weds are in their room on the verge of consummating their marriage. At the height of passion, something happened that will change their relationships, forever.

I read McEwan’s Atonement in year 2008, but I like On Chesil Beach better. Better because McEwan  build up the tension from the beginning, follow it through a vivid and brilliant description of the anxiety and inner turmoil of the young couple, the sensuality of the physical act and the turmoil of the inner emotions was interweave into one seamless body. We are then offered a glimpse into the repressive family background of the newly wed, how they grew up, how they met, what they are passionate about, she, an up and coming violin virtuoso, he an aspiring musician. The marriage would liberate them from their unbearable existence living with their own families.

The following passage concur with my thoughts about naming a condition:

Of course, he had always known. He had been maintained a sense of innocence by the absence of a name for the condition. He had never even thought of her as having a condition, and at the same time had always accepted that she was different. The contradiction was now resolved by this simple naming, by words to make the unseen visible. The term dissolved intimacy, it coolly measured his mother by a public standard that everyone could understand.

This is 1962. It is taboo to discuss sexual matters openly. People don’t talk about the trauma that they experience. The acceptable way to bed your dream girl, is to marry her. Edward has waited a long time to marry Florence. But is it out of love or out of the wish of getting something more out of Florence?

McEwan took a very complex subject and handled it deftly through an event. A simple act of impending act conjure all life’s memories and thought process that goes with it. Who is it that said it? It is from the book “Multicultural Marriage: Promises and Pitfalls” I think that says when two people got married and get in bed, they brought their life histories and parents with them to bed. An awkward moment of wedding night is turned into something disturbing. Only McEwan could get away with it. Linguistically rich and deftly handled I think this book deserves the accolades it received. There isn’t anything that I could say further without giving the plot away. This is a book that stays in your mind long after you put the book down. One which I would not forget the ending passage:

All she needed was the certainty of his love, and his reassurance that there was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them. Love and patience – if only he had had them both at once – would surely have seen them both through. And then what unborn children might have had their chances, what young girl with an Alice band might have become his loved familiar? This is how the entire course of a life can be changed – by doing nothing.

On Chesil Beach he could have called out to her, he could have gone after her. His voice would have been a deliverance.

Sometimes doing nothing may change your life.

Rating: 4.5/5

I am reading this for 2010 Global Reading Challenge for Europe.

Paperback. Publisher: Vintage books 2008 Length: 166; Setting: 1960’s England. Source: Own book. Finished reading at: 17 Feb 2010

Ian McEwan is not new to me but this is the first time I blog about his work, so here goes:

Ian Russell McEwan CBE, FRSA, FRSL (hmmmm.. wonder what all these suffix means?), (born 21 June 1948) is a Booker Prize-winning English novelist and screenwriter.

In 2008, The Times named McEwan among their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.

McEwan was born in Aldershot, the son of Rose Lilian Violet (née Moore) and David McEwan. He spent much of his childhood in East Asia, Germany and North Africa, where his father, a Scottish army officer, was posted. He was educated at Woolverstone Hall School, the University of Sussex and the University of East Anglia, where he was one of the first graduates of Malcolm Bradbury’s pioneering creative writing course.

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


7 thoughts on “On Chesil Beach

  1. I haven’t read this but have read Atonement and Saturday both of which I enjoyed (Saturday in particular). It sounds as if I would like this one too.

    Posted by Bernadette in Australia | February 23, 2010, 1:37 am
  2. I too liked On Chesil Beach better than Atonement. The former is well formed – short and tight – not a single extraneous word. In Atonement, you feel the focus shifting from the actual crime to the war scene and back again – as if the author lost his focus. Amsterdam is also good. I have to give Saturday a try.

    Posted by Anamika | February 23, 2010, 3:33 am
    • Funny thing there was this Librarian who was guiding me to McEwan’s section in 2008 to look for “Atonement” told me that Amsterdam is a pain to read. I think for “Atonement” the movie is better than the book.

      Posted by JoV | February 23, 2010, 9:59 am
  3. I’m glad you enjoyed this book. I found it good, though I think I liked Saturday a little more. And I love that last quote, I remember feeling like that was the punch that ended the book proper.

    Posted by Michelle | February 23, 2010, 8:58 am


  1. Pingback: Anne Enright: The Gathering « Bibliojunkie - September 15, 2010

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
Share book reviews and ratings with JoV, and even join a book club on Goodreads.

Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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