On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan (2007)

Having been introduced to segments of this in my first year of university I thought I would thoroughly enjoy this book due to its unique narrative style which I then mimicked for an assignment. I’m sad to say I was mistaken.

For those that aren’t familiar with novella it follows the wedding night of a young couple who have abstained from sex. Through intricately woven free indirect speech we are granted access to the minds of Florence and her new husband Edward as they encounter their own fears of their bodies and what is expected of them. In a day and age where sex before marriage is practised at the beginning of a relationship it can be hard for a younger audience to fully comprehend the pressures faced after such a long courtship; however, the fears and anxieties that each character expresses are experienced by most at some point in their lives.

The segments of analepsis give valuable insight into Florence and Edward’s life before they met and the lead up to their marriage. The uncertainty surrounding Florence and her father is an unnerving and constant itch from the point it is brought up till the end of the book and her distant relationship with her mother completes what we would now describe as a stereotypical situation. Edward’s relationship with his parents is not much better. With his father constantly working he is left to himself to bring himself up. The little contact that he has with his mother is situated at dinnertimes and while the reader is aware that something is not “quite right” with his mother it is only when he becomes a teenager that it is revealed to him that something is “wrong.” Again this could be seen in today’s age as a stereotypical reason for each of their individual problems.

The book seemed stagnant and the plot did not complete its arc until the last pages. As the character development came through the analepsis Florence and Edward don’t develop much in the present tense. While I wanted to enjoy the book I marvelled at the writing technique more than the plot. I could relate to the anticipation and emotionally journey through the night but for me the novella was too heavily weighted in the past to be fully in the present.

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