‘On Chesil Beach’ by Ian McEwan

A novel that is not a novel.

When in 2007 it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, there was short of a scandal, because ‘On Chesil Beach’ is only 166 pages. Not enough to make a novel.

Not to mention the debate about whether it should have been shortlisted at all.

I only read it this year and I am very glad I didn’t have to put up with all the hype going on around it. This way, I could approach the novella with a fresh mind, completely free of prejudice, and enjoy Florence and Edward’s story.

Taking place in 1962, it tells of a story of two virgins on the first night after the wedding.

Edward, coming from a working-class family, is very much in love with Florence and eager to experience their first night as a married couple and the intercourse that will ensue.

Florence, coming from a middle-class family, is very much in love with Edward and terrified at the mere idea of their first night as a married couple and most of all the intercourse that will ensue.

Edward seems prone to a belligerent temper.

Florence seems to have suffered from sexual abuse when she was a younger.

Mix all this together and bring it to Chesil Beach.

As Colm Tóibín put it,

“The novel is a pure comedy, but it is told from the point of view of the two protagonists who do not think it is funny at all […].”

Dissecting the body – Colm Tóibín

The London Review of Books – pp. 28-29 – 26 April 2007

Although this means that it’s a very bleak joke to tell. The fall is never funny for the bloke who slips on the banana peel.

Blissfully ignorant of all the controversy connected to this book, I read the tale away, even if it wasn’t like reading at all. More like watching a painting of that awful night, when one communication failed and so did Edward and Florence’s marriage.

Ian McEwan has that: the capacity to paint a story with a book. Novel or novella, it really doesn’t matter when this is what you find in its pages.


In case you wanted to read Colm Tóibín review, you can read it on the website of the London Review of Books: ‘Dissecting the Body‘ by Colm Tóibín.


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