First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan

Having access to new university libraries means that I occasionally visit the fiction section and borrow books to read on the train while I commute (and when I say occasionally, I really mean pretty much every time I go to the library).  I have read a lot of Ian McEwan’s more recent work but I haven’t been able to get hold of his earlier works until now.  This collection of short stories definitely shows how far McEwan has come since his debut in the mid-1970s with ‘First Love, Last Rites’.

It’s easy to see why McEwan’s work garnered so much attention when it was first published given that the stories here are a pretty macabre bunch and not easily forgettable in terms of their subject matter which ranges from paedophilia to torture.  ‘Solid Geometry’ is certainly an ‘interesting’ opening to the collection.  If you can get through that, then you will probably manage the other seven stories which are equally warped.

The collection feels very experimental and it is obvious that McEwan was in the process of finding his real voice as a writer having recently completed a Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglia.  It is interesting to see how much the style of McEwan’s prose has changed over the years and how sophisticated his later works are compared to his earlier efforts.  This is not to say that ‘First Love, Last Rites’ isn’t worth reading but I probably wouldn’t recommend it to those who haven’t read McEwan’s other work as it really isn’t representative of what he is capable of.

Having read ‘First Love, Last Rites’, I am not exactly rushing out to get a copy of McEwan’s first novel ‘The Cement Garden’ which deals with similarly grim themes.  However, I am still looking forward to reading ‘Sweet Tooth’ in the near future.  For now, I think I’ll stick with McEwan’s more recent work written at the peak of his writing powers.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan

  1. I preferred The Cement Garden to some of his more recent stuff such as Enduring Love.

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  2. Nice review – definitely read The Cement Garden and everything else he has done! His early stuff is a bit macabre but just as wonderful.

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  3. I haven’t read it yet, but I heard The Cement Garden is pretty good.

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  4. I haven’t even heard of this one (until now), I might have to check it out – I like warped. I’ve been looking forward to Sweet Tooth, but read a pretty unfortunate review from NPR which dampened my enthusiasm for it.

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  5. I haven’t read anything by Ian McEwan but these stories sound super interesting and deep, not your average sweet short story.

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  6. Always interesting how different readers have different perspectives and opinions on various works: FLLR is a collection that’s stayed in my thinking processes for a long time, whereas a book like Enduring Love is significant only for the first scene, for me. Thanks for the read of my site, btw.

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  7. Pingback: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

  8. Dom Nozahic

    I read in your “About” section that you were a big fan of McEwan so wondered if you’d read his short stories. I think the review is in line with the general consensus and certainly with McEwan’s own conception of what the short stories allowed him to do in terms of experimentation. I’m actually a relative McEwan novice – I adore Enduring Love and have read and enjoyed Amsterdam. I ended up writing my undergraduate dissertation this year on representations of masculinity and sex on ‘Homemade’ from this collection and a story called ‘Dead As They Come’ from his second short story collection, In Between The Sheets. They may be experimental and totally vulgar, but I do think he’s bloody fantastic, and I’m a big fan of brevity in literature.

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  9. Pingback: The Innocent by Ian McEwan | A Little Blog of Books

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