It is June 1962. In a hotel on the Dorset coast, overlooking Chesil Beach, Edward and Florence, who got married that morning, are sitting down to dinner in their room. Neither is entirely able to suppress their anxieties about the wedding night to come...
On Chesil Beach is another masterwork from Ian McEwan - a story about how the entire course of a life can be changed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken
This was my first reading of anything by Ian McEwan, and while I haven't given up on the man's other works, yeah... this one definitely wasn't my cup o' tea. It's essentially the story of a freshly married couple, on the night of their wedding, having dinner and ho-humming around the upcoming consummation they are both expecting. Both of them being virgins, neither are sure how to properly proceed. The reader quickly sees that these two are nowhere near on the same page! On one hand, we have husband Edward super siked to throw down since throughout their entire courtship Florence was always very chaste, keeping Edward at arm's length at all times. Meanwhile, we also get a look into Florence's thoughts and find she is utterly ... not just terrified, but repulsed at the thought of being intimate with her husband. Yet she feels that by having gone through with the wedding ceremony, and by that the marriage, she is obligated to "perform" or "put out".
The premise is a good one, starting out anyway. But this story quickly became unbelievably dull. It's all inner thoughts, side glances, respective (and largely uninteresting) flashbacks to their lives before meeting each other (which to me, slowed the pace of the story waaaay down). Though one memory of Edward's did show that he had a long history of horndog nature! X-D He remembers of first meeting Florence, seeing her in a white dress with blue belt and getting aroused because he associated this with a nurse's uniform.
She wore a white cotton dress that flared out like a party frock, and a narrow blue leather belt tightly fastened around her waist. He thought for a moment she was a nurse -- in an abstract, conventional way he found nurses erotic because -- so he liked to fantasize -- they already knew everything about his body and its needs. She kissed him, not deeply, but teasingly, or so he thought. In these early days he considered there was just a small chance that she was one of those fabled girls from a nice home who would want to go all the way with him, and soon.
In Florence's thoughts we see that she does believe she loves Edward, in her own way. She loves when he speaks sweet words to her, sometimes even goes so far to allow him an innocent cuddle or chaste kiss, but anything beyond that seems to gross her out to no end. Her repulsion led me to believe she's possibly an asexual character, though it's not flat-out stated within the text.
The story slowly progresses past dinner talk with Edward attempting to french kiss his wife, an act that she allows out of sense of duty, but one that triggers her gag reflex. Seriously! She has to mentally tell herself not to throw up while her husband's tongue is in her mouth. Not a great start! And yet, she toys with the idea of how nice it might be to carry Edward's child. Ummm....
This I tell you brother,
You can't have one
Without the other
Meanwhile, Edward is trying to successfully push the make-out sesh up to "how do I get her on board with full-on fellatio?" Did I mention it was their first night together? Guy is not wasting any time! LOL About 85 pages into this 166 page (paperback edition) novella, Edward makes hints that he'd like the action to move to the bed. In what Florence considers a charitable act of her new wifedom, she makes the move to entice him to the bed (not much enticing needed, as you can imagine by now). They manage to start up something that sort of resembles sex but it is not romantic, not sexy. Which I could expect from a couple of virgins -- except that McEwan went so far as to just make it all over BLECH. Phrasing like Edward "teasing her perineum" and Florence noticing how hard Edward is "pounding her urethra". And this obsession Edward has over a stray hair... of that general region... Seriously the least appealing, most clinical sex scene I think I've ever read.
Then Edward suffers the embarassment of most male sex newbies, which completely traumatizes Florence (I thought she overreacted a bit myself), so much so that she bolts out of the room -- a decision that will forever affect the future relationship of Edward and Florence. There's a line in the story that I didn't quite agree with -- "Comedy is romantic poison" -- actually, if Florence could have learned to laugh off such situations, and if Edward could have learned to be patient and understanding of his new wife's fears & concerns -- damn, if they'd just talked a bit more about their hang-ups... but lessons of youth, eh?
When I wasn't cringing or shaking my head at this mess of a story, I was laughing at just how bad these scenes were. Without the cover & title page, I'd never think to associate this with such a respected novelist as Ian McEwan, but this one was just a big ol' dud potato for me.