I will try to be brief, but it won't be easy.
This was McEwan's first foray into print after attending the now famous Creative Writing course at UEA under the tutelage of Malcolm Bradbury.
This was an outstanding first collection for any writer and created plenty of waves when it first appeared in 1975. I personally remember the compulsion I felt and the sheer shock I experienced when I read it in 1980. "First Love, Last Rites" really was a milestone in short fiction, and the quality of the writing and its originality certainly stood out at the time.
Much of the subject matter is gruesome ("Homemade" and "Butterflies" to name but two) but the characterisation never falters and you believe in the narrators absolutely. Tellingly, perhaps, all but two of the stories are told in the first person, and they are done so convincingly and with plenty of panache.
However, the real gem of this collection, and the reason I still re-read it, is to be found in the second story.
"Solid Geometry" created quite a stir at the time as the BBC dramatisation of this eerie tale was banned before it even made it into production. What a shame that we had to wait until last year for such a marvellous tale to make it onto the small screen.
"Solid Geometry" is worth the price of this collection, alone. This is a dark, almost supernatural, tale that evokes everything that is great in the classic English Short Story tradition. It harks back to a past that still casts a shadow over the present, and has a grotesque quality all of its own. The first sentence is probably one of the most arresting of any short story of the twentieth century. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that "Solid Geometry" is probably one of the finest short stories ever written, comparable even with D.H. Lawrence's "The Rocking Horse Winner".
If you haven't read McEwan this is a perfect place to start. If you have read him, buy it for "Solid Geometry" alone. You will want to enjoy it again and again.