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Ian McEwan – On Chesil Beach

July 9, 2009

84. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (2007)

Read By: the author.
Length: 4h 30min, although that includes a ~30 min interview with the author (208 pages)

Genre: Literary Fiction

Started: 02 July 2009
Finished: 06 July 2009

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed Atonement and wanted to read more of McEwan’s work.

Let’s talk about sex,
love, feelings, and marriage. Or,
in this case… let’s not.

Summary: It’s 1962, and Florence and Edward have just gotten married, and are on their honeymoon. Both are virgins, both are unsure about what happens next, both have wildly divergent opinions about sex (Edward being eager; Florence being totally disinterested and disgusted, but still feeling a sense of obligation). Neither of them, however, is able to communicate their feelings about the matter to the other, and so their wedding night quickly spirals further and further into awkwardness, isolation, and unhappiness.

Review: I’m having a hard time reviewing this book. On the one hand, I understand that it was meant to be more of a literary exercise, and on technical grounds, it succeeds wonderfully – it’s elegantly crafted and flawlessly written. On the other hand, I didn’t particularly enjoy listening to it, in large part because I wasn’t in the mood for “literary exercise” – I wanted a story.

It’s also very hard to enjoy a story when you find both characters to be obnoxious twits who you just want to shake by the shoulders while yelling “Just TALK TO HIM/HER, already, GOD!” And yes, I get that the fact that they couldn’t talk to each other was kind of the point of the book, but that didn’t stop it from being annoying. The resultant awkwardness was certainly recognizable (how often do we really talk totally openly about sex, even nowadays?), and familiar enough to make reading about it uncomfortable. While literature that makes you uncomfortable certainly has its place, and there are certainly tons of folks out there who can and do appreciate this book for its meditative musings and meticulous tone, it just wasn’t what I wanted to be listening to. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I can recommend this book for aspiring writers as an excellent look at the process of crafting story, scene, characters and conflict. For someone who’s just looking to get lost in an enjoyable read, however, they’d be best served looking elsewhere.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Everyday Reads, Caribousmom, Boston Bibliophile, 1 More Chapter, Everyday I Write the Book, Book Nook Club, Leafing Through Life, ReadingAdventures, BookLit, Reading Matters, Asylum, Vulpes Libris, Stuck in a Book, My Fluttering Heart
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: They were young, uneducated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2009 2:37 am

    haha, our reviews for on chesil beach are really similar! great minds think alike :)

  2. July 9, 2009 7:21 am

    I have to sit and make a serious effort one day with Ian McEwen. I wasn’t able to get past the first chapter of Saturday and this one doesn’t sound that appealing either. Maybe I will do better with Atonement or try Saturday again one day.

  3. July 9, 2009 8:16 am

    I don’t think I’ll try this one, since I’m one of the few people who didn’t love Atonement. Thanks for the review.

  4. July 9, 2009 8:20 am

    I totally agree with you. I think it is well written but I just didn’t like it. And I too wanted to throttle the two characters. Arg!

  5. July 9, 2009 9:26 am

    I liked this a whole lot better than you did (and thank you for the link love!) … but I will agree that McEwan’s writing is a lesson in craft. He is very “literary”…and I find I really have to be in the mood for that kind of novel when I read his books. I can understand that if you wanted a story to get lost in, this one would not do the trick!

  6. July 9, 2009 9:29 am

    Though I can completely see myself wanting to shake them and yell JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER ALREADY, I’m kind of curious about the awkwardness. I think I might find it interesting to read about.

  7. July 9, 2009 10:12 am

    I tried reading Atonement but just couldn’t get into it. I think I’ll pass on this one, too. Thanks for the honest review.


  8. July 9, 2009 2:15 pm

    Aimee – Did I miss your review? What’s the link?

    Nicole – I really liked Atonement – more sympathetic characters, and more of a story. Hopefully you’ll have better luck with that.

    bermudaonion – I’d ask what you didn’t like about Atonement, but since I can’t put my finger on exactly what I *did* like so much, I’d understand if you’re equally vague. :)

    Amanda – There’s definitely a disconnect between rationally admiring the skill and viscerally enjoying the story.

    Wendy – I’m sure that this is a case of the wrong book at the wrong time for the wrong mood; my rating doesn’t say anything about the absolute quality of the book.

    Nymeth – Well, it’s super short, and can probably be read in a sitting, so if it doesn’t appeal, at least it’s over quickly.

    Anna – McEwan’s style is just one of those that doesn’t work for everyone, that’s certainly true.

  9. July 9, 2009 2:25 pm

    I’ll have to remember to read Ian McEwan when I’m in the mood for a literary exercise and not a story. That may be my problem with him.

  10. July 11, 2009 12:29 am

    Link to my chesil beach review:

    Thanks dear!

  11. July 11, 2009 9:57 am

    I loved this book. I won’t point you to my review but rather Lightheaded’s if you haven’t read it.

  12. July 15, 2009 9:17 am

    Carrie – I agree, I think part of my problem with this book was that it wasn’t what I was expecting, and wasn’t what I was in the mood for.

    Aimee & Care – Links added, thank you!

  13. July 15, 2009 6:55 pm

    “Just TALK TO HIM/HER, already, GOD!” That exact reason is why I cannot read most chick-lit. It’s always about what isn’t being said, and resolution comes when they finally say what’s on their minds. Meanwhile in my mind I’m cursing the characters for being such dolts.

    But I do want to give Chesil a try, just because it is meant to be serious.

  14. July 15, 2009 10:37 pm

    I liked Chesil Beach, but like most people I just wanted to shake the main characters. I think Ian McEwan is a bit of an acquired taste, I have really enjoyed his work but I know many people just can’t stand his books. Enduring Love seems to be the most accessible of his novels as it has the qualities of a thriller, a study of the dark side of obsession. I also loved Amsterdam, I loved the black humour that characterised that novel. McEwan is a great writer but definately not for everyone, I have really enjoyed reading this discussion.

  15. July 23, 2009 1:45 pm

    Since you enjoyed Atonement you might like Enduring Love also. I read it before Atonement and surprisingly, haven’t felt the need to see either movie.

  16. July 23, 2009 3:23 pm

    I really enjoyed every other McEwan book that I’ve read. Saturday is my favourite. Atonement was good but I can’t see the reason for all the hype. Chesil Beach was so well-written but not a favourite as subjects go. Amsterdam, Black Dogs, and Enduring Love were all good for me. I guess I just hit an author whose style I enjoy. Thanks for an honest review.

  17. March 6, 2011 5:16 pm

    I totally agree–not an enjoyable or fulfilling read.

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