From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Not quite novel or novella, McEwan’s masterful 13th work of fiction most resembles a five-part classical drama rendered in prose. It opens on the anxious Dorset Coast wedding suite dinner of Edward Mayhew and the former Florence Ponting, married in the summer of 1963 at 23 and 22 respectively; the looming dramatic crisis is the marriage’s impending consummation, or lack of it. Edward is a rough-hewn but sweet student of history, son of an Oxfordshire primary school headmaster and a mother who was brain damaged in an accident when Edward was five. Florence, daughter of a businessman and (a rarity then) a female Oxford philosophy professor, is intense but warm and has founded a string quartet. Their fears about sex and their inability to discuss them form the story’s center.
On Chesil Beach is an incredibly poignant and sad story about a young couple on their wedding night who bring all their fears and apprehensions to the honeymoon suite. Initially, this seems to be a simplistic tale, but as the reader (or, in my case, the listener) gets drawn into the story, it’s impossible not to be caught up in the complexities of Edward and Florence’s unspoken emotions. The novel takes place over just three hours, but that’s plenty of time to lead the couple to a life-changing conclusion.
This is a story about the consequences of things left unsaid and how such silences have the power to alter the course of one’s life. It’s a fascinating premise, this idea that the slightest decision can change things forever. While listening to this story, I couldn’t help but think of this Barbra Streisand song that I chose to be among those sung as part of the prelude music before The Dean and I were married. (Note that I write that I chose the song. The Dean had a say in the matter, but I was pretty insistent on this song being included, so it became a non-issue.)
So often as I wait for sleep I find myself reciting
The words I’ve said or should have said
Like scenes that need rewriting
The smiles I never answered, doors perhaps I should have opened
Songs forgotten in the morning
I relive the roles I’ve played, the tears I may have squandered
The many pipers I have paid along the roads I’ve wandered
Yet all the time I knew it, love was somewhere out there waiting
Though I may regret a kiss or two …
If I had changed a single day, what went amiss or went astray
I may have never found my way to you …
~ Barbra Streisand, “On My Way to You”
I enjoyed this story and as an audiobook, it works well – especially with McEwan himself as the narrator. I particularly like when the author narrates his or her own work. Doing so allows the listener to get caught up in the author’s enthusiasm and emotion. At the end of the audiobook is an interview with McEwan about the story, which is enjoyable to listen to also.