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 Amsterdam—On 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.
(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.
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.
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