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Ian McEwan's 'On Chesil Beach'

In Ian McEwan's new novella On Chesil Beach, a disastrous wedding night in 1962 becomes a cautionary tale about the transition from innocence to experience.

Edward, the groom, has studied history, and likes American rock 'n' roll. Florence, the bride, is a violinist in a string quartet. He is eager to consummate their relationship. She is terrified.

The year 1962 "stands on the cusp of that huge shift in sexual relations, but also social relations," McEwan tells Robert Siegel.

"A lot of young people at that time would go into marriages knowing very little about sex," says the British novelist whose previous works include Saturday, Amsterdam and Atonement.

Though the story is set in a bygone era, it still seems to connect with younger audiences, he says.

"I have read it now to a lot of younger kids and they speak rather tenderly of the characters, and in rather compassionate terms, too," McEwan says.

"And it suggests to me that there is something universal about crossing this line. The terms in which we do it might be strongly influenced, mediated by the times we live in. But still, it remains one of the universals of all human life — crossing that moment from innocence to experience or childhood to adulthood .... "

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