guide_699.jpg

On Chesil Beach (McEwan)

On Chesil Beach
Ian McEwan, 207
Random Hosue
224 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307455826


Summary
Ian McEwan's emotionally charged novel follows an inexperienced young couple through their disastrous wedding night at a Dorset hotel in 1962. Very much in love, Edward and Florence are predictably nervous, but for different reasons.

He longs to consummate the marriage; she is repelled by the very idea. Locked in their inhibitions and utterly unable to discuss their fears and needs, they are victims not only of personal experience but of a distinctively British brand of repression destined to crumble in the sexual revolution. One of McEwan's greatest skills is his ability to limn the precise, irrevocable moment in which life changes forever.

And although that moment is telegraphed within the first few pages of this rueful tale, it loses none of its tragic, devastating force when it occurs. Brief and elegiac, On Chesil Beach spotlights the talents of a literary grand master at the top of his game. (From Barnes & Noble .)



Author Bio
Birth—June 21, 1948
Where—Aldershot, England, UK
Education—B.A., University of Sussex; M.A. University of East Anglia
Awards—(see blow)
Currently—lives in Oxford, England


Ian Russell McEwan is an English novelist. He was born in Aldershot, Hampshire, the son of David McEwan and Rose Lilian Violet (nee Moore). His father was a working class Scotsman who had worked his way up through the army to the rank of major. As a result, McEwan spent much of his childhood in East Asia (including Singapore), Germany and North Africa (including Libya), where his father was posted. His family returned to England when he was twelve.

McEwan was educated at Woolverstone Hall School; the University of Sussex, receiving his degree in English literature in 1970; and the University of East Anglia, where he was one of the first graduates of Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson's pioneering creative writing course.

Career
McEwan's first published work was a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites (1975), which won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976. He achieved notoriety in 1979 when the BBC suspended production of his play Solid Geometry because of its alleged obscenity. His second collection of short stories, In Between the Sheets, was published in 1978.

The Cement Garden (1978) and The Comfort of Strangers (1981) were his two earliest novels, both of which were adapted into films. The nature of these works caused him to be nicknamed "Ian Macabre." These were followed by The Child in Time (1987), winner of the 1987 Whitbread Novel Award; The Innocent (1990); and Black Dogs (1992). McEwan has also written two children's books, Rose Blanche (1985) and The Daydreamer (1994). His 1997 novel, Enduring Love, about the relationship between a science writer and a stalker, was popular with critics and adapted into a film in 2004.

In 1998, he won the Man Booker Prize for Amsterdam. His next novel, Atonement (2001), received considerable acclaim; Time magazine named it the best novel of 2002, and it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In 2007, the critically acclaimed movie Atonement, directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, was released in cinemas worldwide. His next work, Saturday (2005), follows an especially eventful day in the life of a successful neurosurgeon. Saturday won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for 2005, and his novel On Chesil Beach (2007) was shortlisted for the 2007 Booker Prize.

McEwan has also written a number of produced screenplays, a stage play, children's fiction, an oratorio and a libretto titled For You with music composed by Michael Berkeley.

In 2008 at the Hay Festival, McEwan gave a surprise reading of his then novel-in-progress, eventually published as Solar (2010). The novel includes a scientist hoping to save the planet from the threat of climate change and got its inspiration from a 2005 Cape Farewell expedition. McEwan along with fellow artists and scientists spent several weeks aboard a ship near the north pole.

McEwan's twelfth novel, Sweet Tooth (2012), is historical in nature and set in the 1970. In an interview with the Scotsman newspaper, McEwan revealed that the impetus for writing the novel was a way for him to write a "disguised autobiography." McEwan's 13th novel, The Children Act (2014), is about a high court judge.

Controversy
In 2006 McEwan was accused of plagiarism, specifically a passage in Atonement that closely echoed one from a 2012 memoir, No Time for Romance, by Lucilla Andrews. McEwan acknowledged using the book as a source for his work; in fact, he had included a brief note at the end of the book referring to Andrews's autobiography, among several other works. Writing in the Guardian in November 2006, a month after Andrews' death, McEwan professed innocence of plagiarism while acknowledging his debt to the author.

The incident recalled critical controversy over his debut novel The Cement Garden, key plot elements that closely mirrored some of those in Our Mother's House, a 1963 novel by Julian Gloag, which had also been made into a film. McEwan denied charges of plagiarism, claiming he was unaware of the earlier work.

In 2011 McEwan caused controversy when he accepted the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society. In the face of pressure from groups and individuals opposed to the Israeli government, specifically British Writers in Support of Palestine (BWISP), McEwan wrote a letter to the Guardian in which he said...

There are ways in which art can have a longer reach than politics, and for me the emblem in this respect is Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra—surely a beam of hope in a dark landscape, though denigrated by the Israeli religious right and Hamas. If BWISP is against this particular project, then clearly we have nothing more to say to each other.

He announced that he would donate the ten thousand dollar prize money to Combatants for Peace, an organization that brings together Israeli ex-soldiers and Palestinian ex-fighters.

Recognition
McEwan has been nominated for the Man Booker prize six times to date, winning the Prize for Amsterdam in 1998. His other nominations were for The Comfort of Strangers (1981, Shortlisted), Black Dogs (1992, Shortlisted), Atonement (2001, Shortlisted), Saturday (2005, Longlisted), and On Chesil Beach (2007, Shortlisted). McEwan also received nominations for the Man Booker International Prize in 2005 and 2007.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was awarded the Shakespeare Prize by the Alfred Toepfer Foundation, Hamburg, in 1999. He is also a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association. He was awarded a CBE in 2000. In 2005, he was the first recipient of Dickinson College's Harold and Ethel L. Stellfox Visiting Scholar and Writers Program Award, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, U.S. In 2008, McEwan received an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature by University College, London, where he used to teach English literature. In 2008, The Times (of London) featured him on their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".

Personal
McEwan has been married twice. His 13-year marriage to spiritual healer and therapist Penny Allen ended in 1995 and was followed by a bitter custody battle over their two sons. His second wife, Annalena McAfee, was formerly the editor of the Guardian's Review section.

In 2002, McEwan discovered that he had a brother who had been given up for adoption during World War II when his mother was married to a different man. After her first husband was killed in combat, McEwan's mother married her lover, and Ian was born a few years later. The brothers are in regular contact, and McEwan has written a foreword to Sharp's memoir. (Excerpted and adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/4/2014.)



Book Reviews
The bulk of On Chesil Beach consists of a single sex scene, one played, because of the novel’s brevity and accessibility, in something like “real time.” Edward and Florence have retreated, on their wedding night, to a hotel suite overlooking Chesil Beach. Edward wants sex, Florence is sure she doesn’t. The situation is miniature and enormous, dire and pathetic, tender and irrevocable. McEwan treats it with a boundless sympathy, one that enlists the reader even as it disguises the fact that this seeming novel of manners is as fundamentally a horror novel as any McEwan’s written, one that carries with it a David Cronenberg sensitivity to what McEwan calls “the secret affair between disgust and joy.”
Jonathan Lethem - New York Times


This breathtaking novel, Ian McEwan's 11th, tells the story of that night. Like a number of his previous books—among them The Cement Garden, The Comfort of Strangers, Black Dogs and AmsterdamOn Chesil Beach is more a novella than a novel, weighing in at around 40,000 words, but like those other books it is in no important sense a miniature. Instead, it takes on subjects of universal interest—innocence and naiveté, self-delusion, desire and repression, opportunity lost or rejected—and creates a small but complete universe around them. McEwan's prose is as masterly as ever, here striking a remarkably subtle balance between detachment and sympathy, dry wit and deep compassion. It reaffirms my conviction that no one now writing in English surpasses or even matches McEwan's accomplishment.
Jonathan Yardley - Washington Post


(Audio version.) It should not come as a surprise that Florence and Edward, newlyweds who cannot discuss their previous sexual experiences (or lack thereof), do not communicate out loud with one another until all their emotions boil over at the conclusion of the first night of their honeymoon. That their lives are constructed as narratives and memories makes this novella a particularly good choice for McEwan to perform his own work. McEwan provides a deft sense of cadence, timing and emphasis. McEwan reads this poignant, sad and occasionally amusing gem with entrancing skill, precision and perfect pace. In short, McEwan's performance is mesmerizing. An excellent addition to the recording is a thoughtful interview with the author. The conversation provides insight into McEwan's choice of setting, time period (1962) and characters. McEwan reveals that he tries out his works in progress on audiences, a technique that pays off beautifully. This author-read work is outstanding.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred Review.) Conventional in construction and realistic in its representation of addled psychology, the novel is ingenious for its limited but deeply resonant focus. —Brad Hooper.
Booklist


Most critics found McEwan's vivid prose both wry and heartrending.... Some critics complained about the novel's narrow focus, unlikable characters, and explicit descriptions of the newlyweds' attempts to consummate their marriage. Others, however, appreciated McEwan's obvious compassion for the Mayhews.
Bookmarks Magazine



Discussion Questions
1. What do the novel’s opening lines tell us about Edward and Florence? How did your perceptions of them change throughout the subsequent pages? What details did you eventually know about them that they never fully revealed to one another?

2. Is Edward’s libido truly the primary reason he proposes marriage, or were other factors involved (perhaps ones he did not even admit to himself)? Are relationships harmed or helped by cultural restrictions against sex before marriage? Would this marriage have taken place if the couple had met when birth–control pills were no longer just a rumor?

3. Edward replays the words “with my body I thee worship” in his mind. What might have been the intention in including that line when this version of the marriage ceremony was written? How does it make Edward feel?

4. Ian McEwan describes the novel’s time period as an era when youth was not glorified but adulthood was. We are also told that Edward was born in 1940, while his parents contemplated possible outcomes of the war with Germany. At what point did Edward and Florence’s solemnity become viewed as old–fashioned? What contributed to that shift? What are your recollections, or those shared by relatives who lived it, of the emerging youth culture of the late 1960s and ’70s?

5. Were Florence and Edward incompatible in ways beyond sexual ones? What do their difficulties in bed say about their relationship altogether? Or is sex an isolated aspect of a marriage?

6. Chapter two describes how Florence and Edward met; the first paragraph tells us that they were too sophisticated to believe in destiny. How would you characterize the kind of love they developed? What made them believe they were perfect for one another? Are any two people perfect for one another?

7. What did Edward’s decision to go to London for college indicate about his goals? What was Florence’s dream for her future? Was marriage a greater social necessity for her, as a woman? Would her career as a classical musician necessarily have been sacrificed if she had remained with Edward?

8. Compare Edward’s upbringing to Florence’s. How did their parents affect their attitudes toward life? How did the limitations of Edward’s mother shape his feelings about responsibility and women? Was Florence drawn to her mother’s competitiveness?

9. To what extent was the financial gulf between Edward and Florence a source of trouble? How might the relationship have unfolded, particularly during this time period, if Edward, not Florence, had been the spouse with financial security?

10. Chapter four recounts the moment when Edward tells Florence he loves her because she’s “square,” not in spite of it. Are their opposing tastes the product of their temperaments or the episodes in their young lives? What is your understanding of her revulsion to sex?

11. Discuss the novel’s setting, which forms its title. What is the effect of the creaky hotel McEwan creates, and the crashing permanent waves on a beach where the temperatures are still chilly in June? What does it say about the newlyweds that this is the scene of their wedding night?

12. In the end, Edward explores various “what ifs.” Would their marriage have lasted if he had consented to her request for platonic living arrangements? What are the best ways to predict whether a couple can sustain a marriage?

13. How would Edward and Florence have fared in the twenty–first century? Has the nature of love changed as western society has evolved?

14. The author tells us that the marriage ended because Edward was callous, and that as Florence ran from him, she was at the same time desperately in love with him. Why did Edward respond the way he did? Why was it so difficult for them to be honest about their feelings? How would you have reacted that night?

15. Discuss the structure of On Chesil Beach . What is the effect of reading such a compressed storyline, weaving one night with the years before and after it? How did it shape your reading to see only Edward’s point of view in the end? What might Florence’s perspective have looked like?

16. In what ways does On Chesil Beach represent a departure for Ian McEwan? In what ways does it enhance the themes in his previous fiction.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

top of page (summary)

 

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2014