63. ‘On Chesil Beach’, by Ian McEwan.

Ian McEwan On Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach is a weird and wonderful part of the south coast of England. Around 18 miles long, it’s all shingle, with a tidal lagoon known as the Fleet behind it, and it is an example of a tombolo, or a spit of land connecting an island to the mainland, in this case, Portland Bill. It’s a wonderful place to visit, specially on a calm day – the sound of the sea sucking at the tiny pebbles is constant, the English Channel stretches away to the horizon, and it is so long that it is entirely possible to feel you are a million miles away from our crowded little island. It’s a favourite spot of mine, and I always come home with a pocketful of pretty pebbles.

Geography lesson over, but I felt it worth mentioning how unusual this place is, perhaps why it became the perfect setting for such an unusual and compelling novella from the very talented Mr McEwan.

Here’s the opening sentence..’They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.’ And sex is going to be at the core of this story, but not in the way one might at first imagine.

The book is cleverly divided into five parts, beginning with Edward and Florence’s wedding night dinner, a beautiful piece about the general awkwardness of a British attempt at a romantic dinner in a country hotel room in 1962, right down to the melon slices with sticky cherries. Florence is a musician who is secretly horrified at the idea of sex, Edward a history scholar who has been anticipating this night as the culmination of their courtship.

The actual bedroom scene, described in Part 3, is an absolute masterpiece, flawlessly written. It is safe to say that it doesn’t end well, and by the time we reach Part 5, on the beach itself, these poor kids have managed to get themselves in a knot they cannot possibly extricate themselves from without serious loss of dignity.

I read this in an afternoon, sitting in the sunshine, and enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time some years ago. It was first published in 2007 to critical acclaim, it has also been made into an, I thought, very good movie; but as in most cases, the book really is better. If you love a well written book about the tragic-comedic aspect of human relationships prior to the sexual revolution of the 60’s, this is for you. I highly recommend this one!

As always, it is now looking for a new home, so please, just get in touch if you’d like to add this to your collection, and I will send it to you with love from Mum and I…if it has already been claimed, then go and find a copy – you won’t regret it.

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