I read recently that McEwan is the master of the defining moment – meaning a point in time after which absolutely nothing is the same. Point of no return.
On Chesil Beach is the story of a newly wed couple on their wedding night. It is 1962 and we are told right off the bat that Edward and Florence are both virgins. As the story advances and bounces in flashback, we come to understand that Florence was sexually abused by her father.
It is no surprise that the Big Moment is a disaster. Florence runs off and Edward follows her. The ensuing conversation is the defining moment. Can these two people that, presumably, love each other have the difficult conversation and begin to reconcile the issues?
SERIOUS SPOILER WARNING
In a word, no. Both are too hurt, too vulnerable and too angry to reach out effectively. What McEwan does brilliantly is remind the reader that people say incredibly stupid and hurtful things when they are feeling defensive. So as to reject another before being rejected.
I spent most of the novel disliking both characters. But the moral of the story pulled it all together in a way that really does make McEwan the Master of the Defining Moment.