On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

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It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset close. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come.

I can remember my friends reading this book for A Level English Literature and finding it an interesting read so when I found it in a charity shop I decided to buy it. It was my first experience of Ian McEwan and I was impressed despite the short length of the book (about 160 pages).

Edward and Florence have just married and are hopelessly in love with one another. Despite this, both have fears about their wedding night and do not feel able to confess their worries. The novel switches between the present and the past year, from the moment when they first met.

Edward is from the Oxfordshire countryside and has a fairly humble upbringing, living with a brain-damaged mother, a father who struggles to keep up with the household chores, and two younger sisters. Florence’s childhood is very different. The daughter of a university academic, she lives in a large Victorian house in Oxford in very well-off circumstances. Despite their differences the pair fall in love, almost at first sight.

McEwan paints a scene of innocent, lovers’ bliss in the time leading up to their wedding. Saturday afternoons with Florence playing her violin, picnics by the river, and walks through the countryside. However, on their wedding night, all this changes when their silent fears for their wedding night are revealed in the worst possible way.

I sympathised with both characters, but both of their reactions to the situation angered me – I was impressed with how strongly McEwan managed to make me feel about the situation! All in all it was quite a depressing read, but not in a bad way, and it has definitely inspired me to read more Ian McEwan books in the future.

This is how the entire course of a life can be changed: by doing nothing.

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