On Chesil Beach
Always a gorgeous stylist, Ian McEwan has never written more beautifully than he does in his melancholy and haunting new novel, On Chesil Beach (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday). Two newlyweds, Edward and Florence—both virgins—are on their honeymoon in 1962 at a seaside hotel in Dorset. Both are deeply in love, but their happiness is clouded by their intense anxieties about sex, and by their separate worries about the approaching wedding night. The gathering tension and delicately nuanced shifts of feeling that occur as the evening progresses illuminate their very different childhoods, their class backgrounds, their complex hopes and longings, and the hidden truth about their simultaneously loving and repressed courtship. By the end of this brief, quietly riveting book, the couple’s ill-starred romance has come to seem like a metaphor for how little we know about the people we care about most, how much we may have to pay for the sins of impatience and incomprehension, and how much depends on what we do—or fail to do—in a single moment that may determine the course of an entire life.

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