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Book group discussion - 'On Chesil Beach'

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So, what did you all think of 'On Chesil Beach’ then?

Here are my thoughts


I liked it.I liked it much more than ‘Atonement’, but not as much as ‘Saturday’ by the same author. I will almost certainly read it again.


I thought it was beautifully written, & the scenes in the hotel when they were eating their meal were really atmospheric. I did however keep thinking it was set in the 40’s rather than the 60’s….maybe because of Florence’s rather straight laced views. It is a book about a very particular type of Englishness.

The scenes at their dinner were so tense that they were almost claustrophobic – really brilliantly written. The French Kissing scene was just so well written it made me shiver (but not in a good way!)


I loved the way that Florence may act in a particular way & Edward totally misreads her actions & attitudes. I did wonder if the author was hinting at abuse of some kind in Florences childhood?

I am not sure why not attempt at reconciliation was made after the wedding – that didn’t really ring true for me.


On a personal note, I really enjoyed reading this book as a lot of it was set in this area. Stonor is the next village down from mine & Turville which is the village Edward was brought up in is the gorgeous village used for the filming of ‘The Vicar Of Dibly’ This meant I could visualise the walks Edward went on really well, which is nice to be able to do.

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I agree Cinnamon, especially about the atmoshere at the meal, with the giggling waiters etc. You could sense the tension.


The rejection by her donnish mother had a major part in making Florence unresponsive I reckon.


Their situation can't have been that unusual. People were still inhibited and uncertain in the 1960s and I think it perfectly possible that Florence wouldn't have known what to "expect".


The lack of reconcilliation didn't ring true for me either.


At that time, and in that layer of "society" there was still stigma and shame attached to divorce and separation, and I found that aspect of the story just didn't ring true.


Much of the writing was beautiful....the description of Edward's mothers accident and subsequent illness, and how it was never spoken of was very moving, as was the fathers coping strategy.


For me the book had a superb beginning and middle and a poor, not very credible end.


On the whole I enjoyed it though.

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I have "ordered" it from the library (in case I get time to read it as well as March's book), but it's not in yet. Neither is "Brick Lane" I may have some severe catching up to do. :(


I will avoid reading this thread until I do get to read it. I do think the Book Club is a really great idea Cinnamon. :D

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i thought the book was set even earlier than the forties at first! It was reeally only when they mentioned going to the cinema that I cottoned on (silly me).


I too thought the ending was not very believable - on the last page it says about how much Florence loved him and was just waiting to hear him call out to her and just cos he didnt, well it didnt take much to make her give it all up did it?

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I agree Egluntine - the brilliant pace and tension of the first four sections was lost for me in the rather 'and they all lived unhappily ever after' rush to the end.


I was shocked - I was expected the last section to be on the same lines, and a similar timescale to the first. We heard about what Edward did afterwards, but only an oblique reference to Florence's life afterwards. We got equal measures of their life before they met, so I wondered why the last chapter seemed to be all about Edward and not about her.


I do agree that the description of the dinner and the hotel room and so on were very vibrant and created an atmosphere that kept me reading to see 'what happens next'. I think there is a very definite reference to Florence having been abused in her childhood - she thinks of 'memories which she had long ago decided were not really hers'.


I really enjoyed the descriptions of the different families - especially Edward's mother and father and the way they dealt with their problems. The author was a bit more sketchy about Violet and Geoffrey Ponting, and I would have liked to know a bit more about their reaction to the marriage. They were obviously quite wealthy, Edward wasn't - did they really accept him so readily as a son-in-law?


They are an ill-matched couple in a lot of ways - he has next to no knowledge of classical music which is her life, she knows nothing about the countryside, or about history - and they don't really communicate about feelings. I wonder quite why they got as far as marriage?

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I wouldn't say that I "enjoyed" this book, but I did find it very interesting.

As I listened to the audio version (read by Ian McEwan), there was quite a long interview at the end where he talked about the book and what he nearly put in it but decided not to. Apparently he considered putting in a passage about Edward visiting the red light district. Also he was going to write of Edward seeing a newspaper article about Florence's father being convicted for the assault of a 12 year old . There are actually quite a lot of references in the book to Florence not being comfortable in the company of her father and her distaste for him.


I found the idea of being that naive on your wedding night fascinating. To leave everything till that one night. It's not surprising that there were problems. I wonder if lots of relationships did end up in marriage because that is the only way that the girl would give the bloke what he wanted - I wonder what the divorce statistics would be like if that merged with today's acceptance of divorce!


I also thought that the complete lack of reconciliation was fairly unrealistic, but it is all about how not doing something or reacting to a situation changes your life.


If anyone would be interested in hearing the end interview, I could lend it to you or pop it on a disc.

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I was distrubed by it but not for any of the reasons you guys have mentioned I used to live in both Oxford and Portland and things like having a row down on that stretch of beach really upset me - a little too close to home and stirred up some not great memories :oops::roll:


My main feeling was it was too short :?


A bit more about both their lives would have been nice and then possibly some sort of chance meeting/reconcilliation years later would have made more sense 8)

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I must say that Chesil Beach would not be a book i would have normally chosen to read.


I did find the book slow going in parts but on the whole it was a good read.


I couldnt get over how innocent Florence was on her wedding night and reluctant she was to lose her virginity - on the other hand Edward was such an eager beaver :lol:


I liked the background knowledge given about each character but in some parts it felt a little drawn out whereas the ending (after the break-up of their marriage) felt rushed.

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I read this back in January from the library so haven't re-read it so apologies for being slightly sketchy in my "review"- my memory isn't what it was....!


I found the writing rather dense, rather claustrophobic, as if Ian McEwan was trying to cram too many ideas in to too short a book if that makes sense...


I found the bedroom scene really quite gruesome and graphic in its description as seen through Florence's eyes, and thought her treatment of Edward was truly terrible. Her subsequent behaviour on the beach was horrid, she was deliberately hurting him by her words and actions, and I felt quite sorry for him at that moment.


I found parts of the book very evocative; Edward's walk back to his parent's home in the country was particularly pleasurable to read, and I also enjoyed the parts about college life and Oxford.


I agree that it felt like it was in a time older than the 1960s, but then I have to remind myself that we are talking about 40 years ago and how much attitudes have changed to sex and marriage in those years...


I think I knew too much about the story before I read the book really, I knew what to expect, so I am looking forward to reading Brick Lane of which I know nothing :oops:

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I did not like this book. I did not like this book.....


Right from the start. The minute I read that it was set in l962, I just found it unbelievable. l962, The Beatles, the summer of love, Swinging Britain and all that... I just found it so difficult to accept such sexual naivety at this time. I agree the hotel dinner, french kiss stuff was very well written, made my flesh creep :shock: I found I didn't care much about either Florence or Edward, the book dragged for me, I just found myself wanting to shout "Oh for goodness sake just get on with it" :roll: The oblique reference to Florence being abused struck me too, interesting to hear from little chickadee about the McEwan talk suggesting other things he might have included in the book especially about the arrest of Florence's father for child abuse. To me the book read like a work in progress rather than a finished novel, the ending was awful, rushed and made no sense, almost as if McEwan had a deadline and was rushing to be on time :roll:


Shame really, I have read most of McEwan's books over the years and although they deal with dark subjects I have always found them very

readable. Nice try, but no cigar Mr. McEwan :)



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I read this book over one weekend and i did find it compelling, but not in a good way. The desciptions of the wedding night meal and move to the bedroom were well done and probably still realistic for most in the early 60's My parents got married in 1966 and a s far as I know were both pure so to speak and my mum was only 19 and had a very sheltered upbringing, so i can imagine that her feelings were very similar.


The way she ran to the beach I can understand with her naivety, but the lack of an attempt at reconcilliation I can not. There was the stigma of divorce at that time and also the author had gone to great pains to describe their deep love for each other.


The book touched a few uncomfortable chords with me, I come from a very undemonstrative family, and can see how your upbringing can have a profound affect on your adult life. I have always cuddled my children and been very open with them( hopefully not to much), so that whatever happens they will always feel loved and able to share their worrys and fears


I felt that the book was very atmospheric at the start and through the middle but it felt rushed and unsatisfactory at the end. The references to abuse in Florences past should either have been dealt with properly or removed.


I didn't really feel great sympathy or liking for either of the main characters and i was left feeling sad and feel that overall the story had much more to offer than the book delivered.


Love the book club idea, i have Brick lane now and i am about to go and put my feet up with a glass of sparkling wine and begin :D

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It's really interesting hearing peoples views about the book, and I'm really glad that I wasn't the only person who didn't really like the book. I finished reading it and was half tempted to see what other people thought before I dared put my head above the parapet, but I was brave :lol: (I expect it goes back to being at school and worrying about getting the question wrong!)


I will be very interested to read what people think of my choice in May, as it has quite funny reviews on amazon. People either gave it 5 stars or 1 star!

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I enjoyed it. It is a love it or hate it read; I can understand how people can find it unenjoyable. I found it gripping and uncomfortable to read, but in a good way (if that makes any sense at all).


What amazes me about Ian McEwan is how adaptable his prose can be. I'm reading 'Atonement' at the moment and find the prose much denser and more elaborate than 'On Chesil Beach'. It's as if the sp"Ooops, word censored!" prose echoes the constraints on the main characters, while reading it there was a feeling of restraint, of being 'held in', as if the author would have liked to elaborate but somehow could not. The setting of Chesil beach matched this perfectly - I've only been there once, on a bleak, grey autumn day, and in that weather it felt bare, very isolating.


I felt terribly sorry for Florence and definitely felt she was a victim of sorts in her emotional life. The lack of ability to express her feelings was such a handicap for her, only through music could she express herself and she married a man who had little understanding of classical music. The relationship would never have made it as far as marriage in a modern context, but this was not only a more reserved time, these characters had a reserved upbringing and Florence a total lack of ability to express her feelings.


The lack of reconciliation at the end of the book was a shock, but I didn't find it ridiculous like other readers did. Perhaps it was simply an acceptance that their relationship was doomed anyway that led them to let it die in this way.


I enjoyed it and will read it again because I think I'll find things in the book that I missed the first time.

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I found the book incredibly sad. It was reading about the break-down of a marriage and the uncomfortableness of the whole situation and how her new husband was so oblivious. I was surprised they didn't try and make another go of it.

I think it was quite well written as seemed very realistic and you really tapped into their emotions, and was a page-turner, but I just found the subject matter too uncomfortable to enjoy.

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I both enjoyed the book and found it sad/uncomfortable reading. The writing was suberb. I got the feeling the frustration I felt as a reader where I wanted to give them a good shake was intended by the author.


BTW I especially loved this comment

I just found myself wanting to shout "Oh for goodness sake just get on with it"


I found it interesting that Edward could be so knowledgeable about history and be so aware that sometimes a single person or single moment could change the course of history but not see that how he and Florence reacted at that pivotal point would change the course of their own lives.


The time it was set did work for me, thinking about my parents and other people I know of their generation I'm sure that despite the advent of the swinging sixties there was still a lot of inhibition and ignorance about sex. Again they were at a pivotable point where society was about to change hugely (linking back into Edwards history references and pivotal points).


I'd also have liked to see more exploration of Florences parents and their relationship. The descriptions and observations of people and way of life were very evocative and the pivotal point for Edwards was his mothers accident - a chance event that changed everything and nothing. The oblique references to Florence's father abusing her were probably in keeping with the lack of openess of the time it set in and with her level of ignorance it was quite believeable she was suppressing her memories whilst still feeling the distaste.


Whilst the lack of a reconciliation was surprising in some ways, in others it wasn't (back to that pivotal points theme). Also don't forget for some people there is/was a big difference between a divorce and an annulment :shock: so the stigma to an annulment would have been somewhat less.


Funnily enough living on the Henley train branch line the bit that jarred the most was him going to Henley station and deciding whether to get on a train to Oxford or London :shock: I realise that would have been true at the time and it certainly gave the impression of Henley being a significant town/connection point but now we have a train an hour shuttling between Henley and Twyford and if I miss a train I may as well start walking as I'd get to either destination quicker than waiting for the next train.. :cry:

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Funnily enough living on the Henley train branch line the bit that jarred the most was him going to Henley station and deciding whether to get on a train to Oxford or London :shock: I realise that would have been true at the time and it certainly gave the impression of Henley being a significant town/connection point but now we have a train an hour shuttling between Henley and Twyford and if I miss a train I may as well start walking as I'd get to either destination quicker than waiting for the next train.. :cry:


That is so true Patricia :?


Henley pops up a lot in books,movies & TV,doesn't it?

It was mentioned in Skins just the other night 8)

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It does crop up a lot. I guess because it's a pretty town not too far from London and becuase of the regatta people have heard of it. I like it because it's small and local - although not the traffic :evil: . When I wander around I pretty much always bump into someone I know and if I don't I vaguely recognise people just because you see them around but don't know well enough to even nod (I tend to remember random faces well but I realise many don't) so it can be a bit of a surprise when it's featured anywhere.

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<<>>>> :roll:


I found the book beautifully written but my initial reaction was 'screenplay'. It felt like a book that was written in order to be turned into a film - nothing wrong with that I guess as its where the money is.


I too had to double check the year in which the book was set. There was a lot of time spent 'setting the scene' - the food they were eating, the items on the news etc and sometimes it felt like McEwan was ramming this point home a bit too hard - but I think he wanted us to think about that and maybe recognise that it was the 'era' that was partly to blame for what happened. Yes it was the 60s but it was 1962 (the year of the first Beatles record) and what we all think of as 'the 60s was only just beginning to stir by then, so attitudes were still stuck in the '50s', I think.


I must admit I missed the abuse references so maybe I need to read it again with that in mind.


Interestingly Edward and Florence were virtually the same age as my own parents (although my parents married at an even earlier age) - I would love to ask my mum about some of the things in the book.


I was fascinated by the 'handbook' that Florence had read. I am sure McEwan did his research and that such a thing existed but did it really use that language or was that artistic licence? I wasn't sure whether she would actually have read such a manual but I was quite impressed that she did - rather than take the lie back and think of England approach! I was also surprised at her attempt to 'take the lead'.


I too loved the description of the courtship and the characters of their parents, particularly his mother's story.


But the ending was so incredibly sad. He was not willing to take to take that small step towards reconciliation. 'She paused a moment, she lingered there waiting for his reply, then she went on her way'.


And that was it - she went on her way and became the person she and we expected to be. With or without him.





Oh, I had better give someone else a chance to speak...... :D

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I believe such handbooks did exist, but a bit earlier than the 1960s .. I'm sure they would still have been around though.


It's interesting that othe people mention struggling to work out the time it was set until that was revealed by the text ... I assumed this was 1940s or even earlier, as I started reading it, and was quite surprised when I realised the era they were talking about. That's not to say that 'the swinging Sixties' had set in by then, but the whole atmosphere and the descriptions seemed quite stilted for two young people.


I didn't enjoy this, if I'm honest - great descriptions, and some good characterisation, as I've mentioned above, but it just didn't quite work somehow for me - a feeling that something was missing.

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My late MIL who got married in 1941 at the age of 33 had absolutely no idea what to expect on her "Honeymoon" as she put it, and she was an educated., professional person. Catholic though......so......


She was given a handbook by her MIL, so you can imagine what that was like! :shock:


I don't think attitudes will have changed much in the intervening 20 years between her experience and the thta of Florence. It was all pre-pill etc, so ...nice girls didn't.

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My mum married in 62 and says she was every bit as niave as FLorence. Not everyone was "swinging" in the 60s, so to speak, and she says in 62 most people's values were still in the early 50s. I enjoyed the writing and I can see what people are saying about the screenplay but I really don't think there is enough there for a film, there could be lots of nice flashback stuff but the ending is not and easy one for film. Most "big" films these days seem to have a Happy ending or a dramatic one and I though this fizzled out a bit.

I really wasn't sure if he was trying to imply that there had been abuse or not, the boat stuff seemed about to reveal this terribel thing it but then nothing more seemd to come out from it.


Overall I did enjoy the book but it left me feeling that some how it hadn't quite lived up to it's promise.

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just finished reading it this afternoon :D


I enjoyed the book and loved the descriptions and scene setting, very atmospheric and detailed.


I agree that it seemed to be set in a different time - I was thinking 1930/1940s. There was an innocence that did not seem to fir with the perception of the 1960s, but then not all of the world was swinging in the early 1960s.


I'm sure that abuse as a child was being referred to.......when I read the passage set on the boat I immediately thought 'oh she was abused' but nothing more was mentioned.


I thought the ending was what it was............they both went on with their lives although they never found a love like theirs again and both were to proud or hurt to ever try to reconcile.

There was a definite theme of 'if only' at the end which made a nice change to many books today (especially those written with a view to being a film) that everthing must end dramatically or happily.


Off to start on March's Book :D

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