1962. The decade labelled The Swinging Sixties was just around the corner. But the imminent sexual revolution would be wasted on Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting, the young newly-weds of Ian McEwan’s Chesil Beach.
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. But it is never easy.
That opening sentence sets the scene for a tightly-focused human drama which takes place against the background of one of the natural wonders of the world; the massive shingle bank of Chesil Beach in Dorset. Edward and Florence arrive at the hotel for their honeymoon. Naturally they want their first evening to be perfect. But dinner in their room overlooking the bay doesn’t quite live up to their romantic expectations. Soggy, overcooked vegetables served by obtrusive waiters result in a strained atmosphere.
There is however a greater source of tension that rears its head as the night progresses. Their courtship never progressed beyond a few passionate embraces. Edward was always the most ardent of the pair but accepted (though reluctantly) Florence’s desire to wait until they were married for any greater intimacy. Now the moment is approaching when Edward imagines uninterrupted pleasure will be his. Too late he learns this is one aspect of their life that will forever represent a source of discord. Tragedy ensues.