On Chesil Beach will not disappoint people who like reading books by Ian McEwan. It is an absorbing novella, creating a universe of intensity out of an apparently mundane series of events. The framework is the youth and courtship, culminating in wedding, of Edward and Florence, back in 1962.
The story, such as it is, is of the events of the honeymoon night; what came before and, in less detail, after. The author beautifully judges the period between the War years and the swinging 60s: his reflections on politics, sexual attitudes and social mores from a range of viewpoints are mingled with the family history of the main characters, in particular, their two sets of parents, and the places in which they were bought up and lived. The particularly British reserve and embarrassment of that time is so well conveyed.
Florence is a musician, who can lose herself only when playing her violin. Edward’s particular sensitivity lies in his response to the beauty of nature: observing wild flowers, birds and the natural world — feelings which he represses under a veneer of "manliness". In a nutshell, the book is about emotional intelligence. What we feel and how we act on those feelings depending on our age, experience, assumptions and, indeed, the period of time. Edward and Florence have each arrived at a personal way to feel their emotions in the coded era in which they live, but can they transduce this adaptive, private ecstacy into open honesty with each other?
This short book is intense and powerful, particularly so at the end, when, in the fulness of time, one character can finally understand the cost and effect of the night on Chesil Beach, and see what could have happened if different words had been said or different actions taken.