The process of falling in love is, to use a cliche, beautiful & tender. And to get those authentic feelings in words, another cliche, next to impossible. Ian McEwan's On the Chesil Beach is a beautiful and tender work accomplishing a near impossible task of capturing the thought processes of a young couple. Just before the seventies which indulged the young men & women into sexual liberation, was the sixties where courtship was marked by formalities. It was commonplace for English men and women to remain virgins on the first night of their marriage, which precisely is the central scene of novel. Though sex is the crux, the themes McEwan touches are more mature and universal.
Florence 22, is an ambitious violinist; Edward 23, is close to clueless about his career. Her poise belongs to upper class; he has gotten into street fights. She's rich and he's not. But their diversities dissolve completely in their admiration for each other. She listens to rock'n roll because he brought it to her and let's him touch her so that he'll be happy. But the kind of touch she enjoys the most is arm-in-arm walk down the park or hugging and cuddling in the bed - all fully clothed. She's terrified at the very idea of sex, as if a foreign missile directed at her private space. Edward, like most of the men his age is extremely excited at the very prospect of charting into virgin territories. This clash of bedroom interests leads to moments of youthful foolishness that defines their life.
These are the opening lines: 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. You couldn't blame the lady, for how could she openly discuss her sexual preferences (not inadequacies) with a man who has monstrous expectations on that night. And no point blaming the gentleman - his age and the weighty occasion put him on a high-speed lane. Where he merely suffered conventional first-night nerves, she experienced a visceral dread, a helpless disgust as palpable as seasickness. He desperately tries to control his emotions which want him to explode while she bravely wears a happy-face mask in order to accommodate him.
Like in 'Atonement', there's a defining moment in this plot which places their lives on a forked road. Saying something stupid, or not saying anything at all might alter the course of lives. It's not enough to love; sometimes patience with love is what keeps us sane, is what holds a marriage together, is what keeps the family wheel spinning, McEwan reminds us. As soon as I finished the novel, I hugged my wife and said "You know I love you and.... just bear with me".