Ian McEwan's "On Chesil Beach": The Transmutation of a Secret

Bernie C. Byrnes

Research output: Book/ReportBook


In 2002 'The Work Of Ian McEwan: A Psychodynamic Approach' was published by Paupers' Press. In it Bernie C. Byrnes traced the `metaplot' of Ian McEwan's fiction and offered psychodynamic interpretations of his published work, culminating in the Booker prize winning 'Amsterdam' (1998). Subsequently McEwan published two more books: 'Atonement' (2001) and 'Saturday' (2005). Bernie C. Byrnes responded with a supplement to that main work which deals with those later novels in detail. This volume, a further supplement, assesses McEwan's most recent novella.

'On Chesil Beach' is a novella about a disastrous wedding night. At one level McEwan wants the reader to believe that the inexperience of the protagonists, in the setting of the prevalent social customs and taboos of the early 1960s, is enough to account for this fiasco. It is easy to overlook the fact that above all 'On Chesil Beach' is a novel about secrecy. Each of the protagonists comes from a family burdened with a secret. When the consequences of these secrets collide on the wedding night, a common and temporary difficulty, encountered by many virgins, becomes an agonizing and insoluble problem.

While it is not necessary to appreciate the whole complexity of this book, the reader who takes the story at its face value will miss the depth of its psychological insight and its relevance to the present day, and finally will be unable to appreciate the vague but fascinating connection between the secrets in 'On Chesil Beach' and those in the author's family of origin.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationUK
PublisherPaupers' Press
Number of pages52
ISBN (Print)0946650977, 978-0946650972
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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