Paperbacks: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

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It's the summer of 1962 and Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting have just arrived at their honeymoon hotel on Chesil Beach in Dorset. Florence is a serious-minded violinist, Edward a recent history graduate. From the first sentence of McEwan's bookish bestseller, it's clear that the intimacies that should draw the couple together are about to tear them apart. Just a few feet away from the remains of the hotel's over-elaborate nuptial dinner lurks a neatly-made double bed. With a single sexual encounter placed centre stage, this tightly clenched novella proceeds to flesh out the courtship that has brought the newlyweds to this climactic moment. Edward has been raised in near-squalor in Oxfordshire, Florence knows only the donnish splendour of the Banbury Road. Their youthful relationship, flushed with romantic promise, hasn't progressed further than adolescent fumbles: each time Edward parries a more daring move, Florence deflects it with a graceful lob. McEwan's narrative is endowed with the melancholy momentum of a thriller, history and personality propelling Edward and Florence across the "infinite shingle" to an unfeasibly desolate place. Had the nature of their dysfunctions been reversed, it would be interesting to speculate how much more forgiving McEwan's dénouement might have been.

Vintage £6.99 (166pp)