Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Audiobook Review: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

It's really hard to describe this book without making it sound, at worst, pornographic, and at best, salacious. And it's really, really neither of those things.  It focuses entirely on the wedding night of a young couple, both of whom are virgins, and who have grown up in an era where sexuality, and the act of intimacy itself, were not discussed frankly.  We also get the story of how they met, but the main focus of the story is on how their lack of communication over the act of sex and their own apprehensions and miscommunication over the course of an hour or so doom their entire future.

Beautiful.  Absolutely captivating.  I am becoming more and more a fan of McEwan's with every book I read.  I listened to this one almost immediately after finishing Sweet Tooth and I have to say that it's my favorite McEwan book so far.  In 2007 it was, deservingly in my opinion, nominated for the Booker Prize.  Most criticisms I've seen focus on the length, but I found that the 170 or so pages were a perfect vehicle for the story McEwan had to tell.

Entertainment Value
I was a bit nervous about beginning this one.  I had just finished Sweet Tooth, another "literary" novel, and the fact that this was an entire book devoted to the span of an hour or so made me wonder if it could hold my attention.  I admit it, I like to mix up my heavier reads with brain candy.  And I usually like books that have a plot.  My main problem with much of literary fiction is that nothing ever happens.  And that's exactly what this book is - nothing really happens, we just get very detailed looks at two characters.  But it blew me away.

One reason I loved this book so much was that I identified so very strongly with Florence.  While I did not grow up in the 1940's and 50's, I did grow up in a culture where sexuality and sex were not frankly discussed and were considered somewhat vulgar to mention in the presence of anyone other than your spouse (Southern Baptist, right here).  I was a virgin on my wedding night as well and I had so many of the same thoughts and fears as Florence.  It blew my mind that, of all people, Ian McEwan could get into the mind of an innocent, virginal, frightened young woman the way he did.  But he nailed it (pun intended).  Honestly, I have to say that I think McEwan did a better job of capturing the mindset, fears, and insecurities of virginity better than any of the books I read to prepare for marriage.

It's always my preference for an author to narrate his or her own book, so I was glad to hear McEwan's voice.  I think the author can capture the tone better than a paid actor or actress or reader or whatever you call them.  Of all people, the author knows a character's intonation and pronunciation.  I also liked the question and answer session that is included at the end of the book.  McEwan revealed some of his intentions in writing the book that cleared up ambiguous portions for me, particularly the hints that there could have been abuse in Florence's past.  It makes me feel ridiculously proud when I realize that I picked up on something subtle that an author like McEwan was trying to convey.

I think this is an amazing character/situation study.  My concerns about being bored with a book that covers such a short time period and is almost exclusively internal monologue were totally unfounded.  I was enthralled and amazed at McEwan's ability to capture the situation that so mirrored my own, particularly from the point of view of a woman.  I'm very impressed.


  1. Hi there, the January edition of Books You Loved is open for entries. Here is the link Books You Loved January Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book/s you loved. Maybe this post? Cheers and Happy New Year!

  2. I've only read Atonement, but you've convinced me I really need to pick up his other books. I actually have this one on my shelf so I'll have to remember it's there! I would be wary about reading a book that takes place in such a short time as well, but since you vouch for it still being good.. hehe. :)

    1. If you read it, let me know what you thought! I'd love to hear someone else's opinion on it!