Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Erin Wilson
Features Writer
1:33 PM 17th November 2020

Review: On Chesil Beach By Ian McEwan

July, 1962.

Dorset, England.

A young couple, very much in love, have just got married in the peak of an English summer. Following their wedding night dinner, they both struggle to suppress their private fears for the night to come, which ultimately ends with devastating consequences.

Ian McEwan is a writer I had heard about, but I had little interest in picking up his books, until I saw that Saoirse Ronan stars in the film adaption of On Chesil Beach. As per my own rule of reading the book before watching the film, I headed to the library.

The premise is a simple one: a newly married couple head to Dorset for their honeymoon after getting married that morning in London. After strolling down the beach and sharing dinner, the inevitable is upon them – consummating their marriage.

The book follows both members of the couple, Florence and Edward, as they harbour reservations about their wedding night and new marriage, in the present in Dorset, whilst also returning to previous points in their lives leading up to this pivotal event.

The book travels through the couple’s respective childhoods, school careers and higher education, as well as their break into the working world; and in parallel, charts how the couple met and their courtship leading up to their marriage.

Despite the transitioning timeline, the book is never hard to follow. Reading alternate perspectives from different times in the characters’ lives allows a clearer picture to form; of how exactly the couple came to be in a hotel room in Dorset, and just how much the suffocating marital culture of the 1960s was an influential factor.

There are several strengths to Ian McEwan’s writing that are evident throughout the story. Firstly, the book is only 166 pages, and yet the story and character arcs reach a satisfying end. Secondly, the writing. Not only can Ian McEwan perfectly execute a complex, difficult and intimate story in less than 200 pages, he can do so with the most beautiful writing. It is testament to this writing, and my prior lack of reading it, that I am now set on a mission to read as much of his work as I can lay my hands on.

I could not say for certain what the message of this book was; whether it was how age makes us wiser; how societal influence is almost always crushing, or how a gesture not made or a word left unsaid can have damning consequences.

Perhaps it is a combination of all three.