On Chesil Beach is an intriguing book as it opened my mind to what intimacy means to each individual. It discovers the bond that the two protagonists share and what love means to each one of them. Florence and Edward fall in love with each other and theirs is a perfect story on the outside. She plays the violin as part of a quartet and has been preparing steadfastly for her dream performance, while Edward has graduated in history and dreams of writing books. So far so good. However, as Ian McEwan digs deeper into their beings, I realised that the normal societal constructs that work for the majority in the world, could be devastating for a few. Florence has a deep fear about being sexually intimate with Edward as her whole being shudders at the thought of being, in her words, violated. She feels squeamish with the whole idea of sex anddoesn't know whom to confide in or what label to put on her problem.
She starts to believe that there is something wrong with her and thus, keeps her fears to herself. Unable to confront her situation head on, she keeps quiet until her wedding day. The book revolves around the night of their wedding where they anticipate the events of the night with opposite feelings of fear and ecstasy. They are sitting on a table, having dinner and both of them are not sure what to do next. Edward had realised long ago that Florence takes time to get comfortable with being physically intimate. He had kissed her in their initial days of relationship and she hadn't reciprocated like he expected. Thus, he didn't rush the matters that night and hoped everything would naturally unfold. Florence didn't want to let Edward down and felt too strongly bound by a sense of duty to make him happy. She took him to the room and led him on to make love. As he began to undress her, he was full of excitement while she was trembling within and trying to keep her feelings concealed from him. She tried hard to stay calm but eventually, her panic overwhelmed her being and she ran away from the room, feeling ashamed and disgusted at the same time. After a while when Edward went to her at the beach, she apologized and explained to him how she felt about the whole idea of sex. She even proposed to him that they should stay married as they loved each other but he can have sex with other women if he wants to. This idea seemed preposterous to him and he called her fraud and frigid in fury. She felt worthless in that moment and had nothing more to say. She left him there and walked away from him forever.
Later in life, when she performed her dream performance with her quartet, her eyes wandered off to search for Edward in the crowd, who was busy wasting his life away and wasn't as focussed, ambitious and serious as he was when he was with her. He was amazed that he had let that girl with her violin go away from his life when all she had wished for was a little patience from him and to be reassured of his love for her. Alas, that lifetime could have been so passionate had he shown more faith in their love that night on the Chesil Beach.
By: Avni Arora