On Chesil Beach

I have enough trouble remembering my wedding day – it was a very low key affair with only two witnesses and one three-month-old baby in attendance – let alone my wedding night.

As the presence of the baby (my little daughter Rosie) at the ceremony would suggest, I wasn’t exactly virgo intacta when I walked down the aisle of Lambeth Registry Office, so the wedding night didn’t hold the significance of old.

However, as On Chesil Beach reminds us, there was a time when it would have been expected that one or both partners would have been virgins, as is the case with Edward and Florence, the protagonists in Ian McEwan’s heart-wrenching novella about a wedding night that goes disastrously wrong.

The majority of the book takes place at the Dorset guest house where the newly-weds are spending the first night of their honeymoon.

Despite their different backgrounds - she the middle-class daughter of a businessman and academic, he a country boy - they appear to be well-matched.

However, the spectre of the consummation hangs like a pall over the evening with one half of the couple looking forward in eager, if nervous, anticipation, the other in utter dread.

And when they finally fumble their way to the marriage bed, they do so with disastrous results, albeit clearly more memorable than my own wedding night.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan