On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On Chesil Beach

I read another McEwan’s book a while ago, Atonement, and didn’t quite like it, despite all the high praises. I really so wanted to like his books. I just couldn’t believe that I didn’t. I thought his types of books were just the ones that I would like. I still couldn’t let it go for a while, so I started On Chesil Beach.

I was so glad to find that I enjoyed it.

On Chesil Beach tells a story about a newly married couple, young, virgin, extremely shy and awkward. Setting is in old Europe 1960s, the time when talks about sex were far and few.

I thought only a genius could write a novel on a few hours of a wedding night and be nominated for Booker Prize (2007). And genius he is. There’s just something about McEwan’s use of words and language. Like people say, he’s a master of English. It’s just great. The words he uses to explain all things that we often can’t put into words. (Well as you can see, I’m definitely not a master of English.)

[spoiler]I read around forums to see what other people think of it. People mentioned about possibility of Flo being abused by her father, which caused her to be so frigid and revolted at sex. There are several hints in the book, which I have to half-heartedly agree. I probably subconsciously tried to ignore them at first, because it disappointed me a bit. I thought Flo’s character would be more interesting without the abuse (which would make things make sense in a too easy way).[/spoiler]

Love the ending. Sad. But poignant.

Rating: 4 out of 5
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A short, full of impact novel, written by a literary genius. His books still contain the longest sentences I’ve ever found in books.

First line

They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.

Last line

Instead, he stood in cold and righteous silence in the summer’s dusk, watching her hurry along the shore, the sound of her difficult progress lost to the breaking of small waves, until she was blurred, receding point against the immense straight road of shingle gleaming in the pallid light.


“This was still the era – it would end later in that famous decade – when to be young was a social encumbrance, a mark of irrelevance, a faintly embarrassing condition for which marriage was the beginning of a cure.” ~ p6

“He was discovering that being in love was not a steady state, but a matter of fresh surges or waves, and he was experiencing one now.” ~ p125

“This is how the entire course of a life can be changed – by doing nothing.” ~ p166

Atonement by Ian McEwan

The setting of Atonement is Talli’s family house in 1935. A 13 years old girl with strong imagination, Briony, had witnessed a series of events between her sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the family’s childhood friend. At the end of the day, Briony made a mistake that affects the lives of all three, a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.

Gosh it took me a LONG time to finish the book. One of the hardest book I’ve read so far. It’s very very wordy. The sentences are so long with so many commas that I often lost what it was about and had to go back re-read. A lot of words are not in my vocabulary, like one said, the words are very flowery. The first few chapters are so slow that I wondered if I could go on or should go on. After a question in the BC forum, I decided that I just gotta finish the book (most urged me to continue, it gets better at the latter part).

It did get better, albeit slowly. I wanted to read the book first before I watched the movie, which came out not long after I started the book, since generally book is always better than the movie. However since things moved very very slowly for me, the movie would definitely finish in the cinema before I finished reading the book. So after the first chapter, I just went to watch it.

So the first half of the movie felt like a totally different experience than the second half, because I knew the story. I was very aware of all the details in the movie, since the book goes into crazy details into every little thing, like Cecilia’s gown, Lola’s outfit, the scar on Marshall’s face, the twin’s hair, the triangular shadow on Cecilia’s wet undergarment, the vase, the fountain, the house, even the grass. Really. Not to mention all the dialogue. The movie helped me to visualize what I have read.

The second half of the movie helped me to continue reading the book. Since I knew then how the story went, in the most boring and slowest part of the book, I knew it WOULD go somewhere, that I wouldn’t be on that spot forever. Really, sometimes it just got too slow. On the second chapter, I started to learn to fast-read some parts that I just didn’t care much about. The war bit especially, felt like forever to go through. Interestingly some people said that the movie is very slow. Believe me, it’s lightning fast compared to the book!

I feel more for Briony after I watched the second part. Briony was unbearable to me when I read the first chapter of the book. I almost didn’t feel like continuing just because I hated her so much. I don’t think I have hated a fictional character this much, because of the their personality and actions, ever.

I’m glad I finished it, though I don’t think I have the energy for another McEwan’s book for the longest time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Great plot, although I wish the author could spend more words on the things that matter. At times it can be far too slow.

Atonement is one of the 1001 books you must read before you die.
It was shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize and winner of 2003 National Book Critics Circle award (plus a bunch of other awards).

Discussion on bookcrossing website

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