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Ian McEwan - On Chesil Beach

The plot of On Chesil Beach is quite straightforward. In July 1962 two young people have just been married and are about to spend their honeymoon in a small hotel on the Dorset coast. Florence Ponting is an aspiring violinist, the daughter of a wealthy business man and an Oxford lecturer, Edward Mayhew is an history graduate, the son of a country headmaster and a brain-damaged woman with artistic inclinations. They are happy, in love, but extremely nervous: “They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossibile”. The novel tells the story of that awkward night. Edward is full of expectations. He wants to be a good husband – respectfull, confident and reliable – and has a positive attitude to sex. Florence fears sex: “Sex with Edward could not be the summation of her joy, but was the price she must pay for it”: She would rather not be touched by anyone – even the man she loves. She longs for a sort of platonic love: “She wanted to ginger in this spacious moment, in these fully clothed conditions, with this soft-brown gaze and the tender caress and the spreading thrill. But she knew that this was impossibile, and that, as everyone said, one thing would have to lead to another”. Florence and Edward make small talk at the dinner table set in their room while eating a horrible dinner served by silent and discrete waiters. What follows is a disaster culminating in Florence’s disperate escape from the hotel to the beach where Edward joins her for a final showdown. The narration of the events of that night is interrupted by flashblacks which details Florence and Edward’s chance meeting, their past life and drastically different social backgrounds and upbringing. The last part of the novel sums up the two protagonists’ subsequent lives. Neither of them will find happiness, just a sort of resigned acceptance of themselves. They will never meet again after that last moonlight walk on Chesil Beach.

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