Ian McEwan is such an intense, intelligent writer that I like to read him, if at all possible, in one concentrated sitting. Not easy, when he’s also one of those writers whose prose is so remarkable that I like to frequently go back and reread whole pages – and I am not a fast reader. His new novella, On Chesil Beach is both delightful and disappointing in its brevity – I could have absorbed myself in these characters for many more chapters. It’s set ostensibly on Florence and Edward’s memorable wedding night in the early sixties, but with flashbacks to their initial meeting, and a bittersweet glance into their future.
The happy couple is about to consummate their relationship and both are terrified, being virgins. With the same clinical precision that McEwan brought to brain surgery in Saturday, he slowly dissects the emotional and physical awkwardness of sex. I certainly will never think of French kissing in quite the same way again; I had to pause and consider if what he was describing was physically possible, but knowing his reputation for meticulous research, I can only assume that it is. Let’s just say there are references to dental work and gag reflexes. I still can’t quite decide whether to nominate him for the Bad Sex Award or to frame this amazing paragraph as an example of the most brilliant, uncomfortably funny prose I’ve ever read. McEwan fans are in for real treat.