With The Browser's Alec Ash, Berthoud discussed five top books on love, including:
On Chesil BeachRead about the other books Berthoud tagged at The Browser.
by Ian McEwan
Moving onto On Chesil Beach. Will you set the scene please?
This short novel is set in July 1962, when Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting are just married. It’s about the first night of their marriage, on honeymoon in a Georgian hotel next to Chesil beach on the coast of Britain. The book describes their courtship and how they got to this point, then the crucial scene is what happens on their wedding night. Edward climaxes much too soon in his excitement, and somehow they don’t get over this.
Because they hadn’t slept together before – this being one year before sexual intercourse began, according to Philip Larkin. But is it simply this disastrous shag that splits them apart, or do you feel there was something else lurking under the surface?
I think it’s a unique conglomeration of circumstances. Florence has quite a deep fear of sex – she almost can’t bear to be touched by anyone – while Edward is really looking forward to total sexual abandon. It’s obvious to the reader that this is not going to happen, because they’re so completely different in their feelings about sex. And their lack of communication causes this unbearable tragedy. It does seem to me a uniquely English tragedy and very much of that time, just before sexual liberation. Ten years later they probably would have been able to deal with it. This book is a great warning for not holding back on sex before marriage.
Do you think that it works describing sex in books?
Well, there’s a lot of bad sex in books. On Chesil Beach takes the biscuit for one of the most awful sex scenes in literature.
On Chesil Beach also appears among Eli Gottlieb's top 10 scenes from the battle of the sexes, and on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best honeymoons in literature, ten of the best beaches in literature, ten best marital arguments in literature, and ten of the best failed couplings in fiction.