It is 1962, and newlywed couple Edward and Florence is spending their wedding night at a small seaside hotel on Chesil beach in Dorset. While the couple eats their dinner, we are privy to their inner feelings about the event to come (she -dread and faint disgust, and he love and anticipation). The author then describes the upbringing and courtship of the couple at great length, contrasting their different backgrounds and faintly hinting at some form of sexual abuse in Florence’s past. When the big moment finally comes, it is a complete disaster and leads to the breakdown of the relationship.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
This is not an action story – it moves at a glacial pace, with carefully considered thoughts and scenes rounding out the characters. It is also a sad story and a frustrating one for modern readers. If the events of the novel took place today, the characters would confide in their friends, read a few sexual advice columns, get some hearty advice and go back and discuss the issue with one another. Instead, Ian McEwen’s characters are a product of their time and they cannot move past the awkwardness and embarrassment of the moment.