On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

October 6, 2013

on chesil beach Plot summary (from the publisher): In 1962, Florence and Edward celebrate their wedding in a hotel on the Dorset coast. Yet as they dine, the expectation of their marital duties weighs over them. And unbeknownst to both, the decisions they make this night will resonate throughout their lives. With exquisite prose, Ian McEwan creates in On Chesil Beach a story of lives transformed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • I generally like McEwan’s writing style. His prose can be eloquent at times, even when he is describing ridiculous situations like the one in this book.
  • I like the premise of “lives transformed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken”. This could have been the basis for a deep, thought-provoking novel, but the author didn’t go that far. (In fact, he inexplicably glosses over the rest of Edward’s life instead of focusing more closely on the consequences of Edward’s choices.


  • This did not feel like a story that took place in 1962. Granted I didn’t live through the sixties, so I have no firsthand experience with the era, but Florence was so prudish and Edward so reserved that the characters would have been more at home in 1862. This disconnect took me completely out of the story as I wondered why the hell these two had to be so circumspect about talking about sex.
  • McEwan spent a great deal of time telling readers about the characters’ past instead of showing us how they interacted. As a result, he kept them distant from the reader and I was never able to warm up to them. I couldn’t understand how they fell in love (what, just because McEwan tells us that in the first line?) or why either of them was so eager to get married. I guess Edward was lured by the prospect of regular sex, but what was Florence’s motivation?


On Chesil Beach is a odd little novella with an intriguing premise but disappointing execution. McEwan’s writing style itself isn’t enough to salvage much entertainment value out of cold, unsympathetic characters and a plot that ultimately goes nowhere. I give this one 2 stars out of 5.

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