On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

I get off the library book wagon with On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, the first of (I hope) several books in the Morning News 2008 Tournament of Books that I hope to read.

And what they had here, on the shores of the English Channel, was only a minor theme in the larger pattern.

Florence and Ted are young newlyweds in 1962. Ted is a scholar and Florence a classical violinist. And both have serious concerns about the actions required of them on their wedding night, yet “they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.”

McEwan painstakingly, and often painfully, etches their thoughts, fears, history and conversation. Both Ted and Florence are rendered ever more complex over the course of the 200 small pages in this slim volume. The night becomes a microcosm of their relationship, and another key event in the lives of the two young people.

This is beautifully written, compassionate and it contains profound, universal truths about relationships, marriage, and communication between men and women. It is not a thumping good read; it requires care and attention to appreciate. Also, to me, this is not a novel. By artfully plumbing the depths of two people, and one encounter, this reads more like a short story, or at most a novella.

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