Laid across five slight chapters, On Chesil Beach begins in the honeymoon suite of Florence and Edward as they hover at the edge of the first-time intimacy that will corroborate, legally and spiritually, the vows they have already exchanged.
But simple sex is not so simple--unknown to Edward, who is delirious with lust, his bride harbors absolute revulsion for the act. Naturally, this is not news to Florence, who nevertheless pledged, before family and community, "With my body I thee worship! That's what you promised today," Edward reminds her at the book's paralyzing climax. "In front of everybody. Don't you realize how disgusting and ridiculous your idea is? And what an insult it is?"
Yet that idea--Florence's preconceived response to the inevitable mess she finds herself in on her wedding night--forms the tale's central question: when we wed, how much of ourselves are we obliged to reveal to our prospective mates?
If that sounds straightforward enough, you can bet a master novelist like McEwan spins it off in a million complex directions, tapping every available emotion. The plight of Florence and Edward resonates deeply long after readers have zoomed through the book's scant 166 pages.
Ironically, part of what makes the book so powerful is McEwan's delicate touch. As he tiptoes through Florence and Edward's respective back stories, we forget he's there, instead focusing on the almost palpable scenes he lays before us. This is storytelling at its most dynamic--vivid, persuasive and completely fluid. Though rendered in figurative watercolors, On Chesil Beach is a tiny, perfect masterpiece as lasting as a canvas infused with oils. --Kim Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
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