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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect introduction to a great talent
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...
Published on 9 May 2003

versus
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as remembered
I purchased this, Ian McEwan's first published collection of short stories and the book that established his early reputation, having read it many years before and wishing to re-visit it. I had retained an impression of a dreamy, moving series of stories conveying innermost feelings sensitively and brilliantly. I must have been recalling a completely different book! I...
Published on 17 July 2009 by Listener 1


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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect introduction to a great talent, 9 May 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: First Love, Last Rites (Paperback)
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.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bold, maudlin, and strangely brilliant set of stories, 7 May 2003
By 
Daniel Jolley "darkgenius" (Shelby, North Carolina USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: First Love, Last Rites (Paperback)
Approaching Ian McEwan for the first time, it seemed only natural that I begin with this collection of eight short stories, his first published work. I must say that McEwan leaves quite an impression on the reader. In fact, these stories are quite unlike anything I have ever read. One is hard pressed to determine just how to feel about the stories told here, attempting to integrate shock, sympathy, understanding, depression, ennui, enlightenment, and all manner of other reactions into some sort of vision of enlightenment. The first thing that becomes apparent is McEwan’s boldness and unique vision; he uses some words that never find themselves into the published works of most other writers, but his employment of them seems to be a matter of craft rather than an act of gratuitousness. The very first story, Homemade, is a somewhat disturbing and surreal account of incest, with a lad seeking to understand the type of world his adventurous friend lives in engaging his younger sister in an act of sexual exploration. The story ends quite suddenly, leaving me to interpret the deeper meaning completely on my own. Solid Geometry is sort of the odd duck in this collection, with its theoretical mathematics feel distinguishing it from its counterparts. The story works quite well in describing the protagonist’s uneasy relationship with his wife, but the kicker at the end comes off as just a little too esoteric. Cocker at the Theatre is the most outré (and short) story in the collection; personally, I didn’t get a lot out of it, but it does demand attention.
For the most part, the reader stays on morbid ground. Some have described these tales as having a definite aspect of horror to them, but I would not equate them with horror at all. Each story seems to bear the weight of an imperfect world on its shoulders, and the visions of reality that pour forth throughout the book are maudlin and disturbing without being horrifying in the normal sense of the word. Last Day of Summer is a perfect example, and as such it is clearly my favorite of the bunch. We gain insight into the lives of ordinary people in a setting that is slightly out of the ordinary, and the story seems to me to bristle with a few soft strokes of existentialism, particularly at the end. Butterflies is an almost equally atmospheric offering, creating an atmosphere of moral decay and slight madness around the drowning of a young girl and the unfolding account of the protagonist’s insight into that death. Conversation With a Cupboard Man is quite impressive, telling the story of a man so over-protected by his mother for the first two decades of his life that he cannot adjust to modern life on his own, longing to return to a childhood in which his needs are met and he is sheltered. The title story is a relatively weak piece compared to its companions here, failing to provide me with the insight I was expecting from it. Finally, there is Disguises, yet another disturbing story of over-protection and sexual innuendo, covering a boy’s desire to break away from the significantly odd atmosphere of his home life and his struggle to adjust at the crossroads of his public and private worlds.
McEwan exhibits what I consider something of a singular style in his writing. Oftentimes throwing together a string of fairly short sentences, he nevertheless avoids any sign of choppiness and proves amazingly efficient at making even the shortest sentences say a great deal. The subject matter of a few of these stories might bother some readers, particularly the incestuous relationships that are implied if not laid out in a few of the stories, but McEwan unwinds his short dramas in an impressively literary style, granting even the most controversial of subjects a lofty plane on which to evolve. The most disturbing aspects of this collection actually have nothing to do with any overt acts themselves but rather with an evocation of the psychological depths of a number of quite interesting characters. First Love, Last Rites won’t pick you up when you’re feeling down, as it can cast quite a maudlin spell over the sensitive soul, yet it offers quite a uniquely illuminating study of human nature and the loss of innocence.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Macabre, strange behaviour, reluctant admissions, 10 Dec 2010
This review is from: First Love, Last Rites (Paperback)
Having read much of Ian McEwan's later work in the last few years, I was intrigued to chance upon a copy of First Love, Last Rites, a set of his short stories published in 1975. I read The Cement Garden and The Comfort Of Strangers just after their publication, but I have not picked up any early McEwan since then. First Love, Last Rites proved to be an eye-opening read, not least because hindsight offers real clues as to how Ian McEwan has developed as a writer.

The stories in this set vary from Disguises which, at around 20,000 words, might even be a novella, to Cocker At The Theatre which is definitely a short story. What characterises all of these tales, however, is that they focus on characters whose behaviour or personal culture might be seen as towards the minority end of taste. I use the word minority to indicate that only a few people would admit to such proclivities, not that they might comprise only a small element of generality. It was this concentration on arguably the freakish that allowed the nickname Ian Macabre to stick.

In First Love, Last Rites, for instance, we have a touch of incest, sexual intercourse on stage, not a little child abuse seasoned with transvestism, an episode of boiling in oil, childhood games that grow prematurely adult, rats scratching at the skirts and more. I am reminded of the photographs of Diane Arbus from roughly the same period. It seemed that wherever she pointed her camera, no matter how potentially mundane the shot might appear, there would be evidence of sadomasochism, bestiality, paedophilia, even meat-eating.

It was this mix of what was understood as marginal mixed with the manifestly prosaic that caught the attention in the photographs and rendered them so disturbing. Viewing them reminded oneself of diverse aspects of humanity that - at least potentially - we all share and yet publicly try to deny. For the British, that might include all sex that cannot be advertised or sold. It certainly includes all the aspects of human behaviour listed above. I am not accusing all adults of paedophilia. I am suggesting that all of us have both privately and publicly appreciated the neat, taut beauty of a child's body. The question, and it remains an interesting one, is where is the line between `normal' appreciation of beauty and socially unacceptable `perversity'. I will never forget a trip around London's National Gallery with a relative younger than myself, someone with little previous exposure to "art". Her comment was that the paintings were pornographic, merely because they portrayed nudes.

All Ian McEwan's characters straddle this question's necessary confusion. Maybe their acts are merely imagined, leaving the individuals grappling with aspects of themselves they cannot understand, admit or control. Maybe they do what they say but, as a result of some inner drive that others do not share, cannot comprehend their own marginality. Whatever the case, these peoples' psyches must continually grapple with a conflict between a truth of what they are versus an image of what they believe themselves to be. There's a gap of communication wide enough to allow most experience to fall through.

And it is these gaps that Ian McEwan exploits. He presents people in situations that for them might seem completely mundane. For the rest of us, these are highly individual worlds that publicly we do not expect to see. But, like the images of Diane Arbus, we find we can enter into them because those aspects of humanity are within us as well, though often we don't like to admit it.

Where Ian McEwan's later work triumphs can now be seen more clearly. Whereas in the earlier work there was a need for a fundamental shift by the reader to admit a possible likeness with his characters, in his later work he presents the individual foibles of his characters in much more rounded, complex forms, forms that all of us can easily associate with. Then the contradictions emerge. Then the conflicts surface and then the gaps in communication widen. The approach is the same, but the effect is so much greater. First Love, Last Rites remains a brilliant read in its own right, but I reckon that for many readers of Ian McEwan a re-visit would shed much new light on his later work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling, 10 Mar 2009
This review is from: First Love, Last Rites (Paperback)
I think Ian McEwan's short story books have to be my favorites. They offer short nuggets that immediately draw you in with shocking consequences.

I found that these stories stuck in my mind and provoked more thought than any longer novel. McEwan's style is captivating as always and his subject matter is dark but dangerously intriguing. I would defiantly recommend this book as I enjoyed it, it gives food for thought and a glimpse of the well disguised darker side to human nature.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as remembered, 17 July 2009
This review is from: First Love, Last Rites (Paperback)
I purchased this, Ian McEwan's first published collection of short stories and the book that established his early reputation, having read it many years before and wishing to re-visit it. I had retained an impression of a dreamy, moving series of stories conveying innermost feelings sensitively and brilliantly. I must have been recalling a completely different book! I can't say I actually enjoyed it this time around, and I was disturbed to find an underlying, somewhat warped sexuality pervading more than one of the stories. I accept McEwan'r brilliance with language and imagery, but was left doubting that I would have bought it again had I recalled it better. In my view some of his later work is far superior (I suppose that is to be expected), especially "A child in time", which I regard as his best book to date and one which makes his reputation well-deserved.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everyday lives with macabre twists, 16 July 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: First Love, Last Rites (Paperback)
This book of short stories is from the early part of McEwan's career and there is an almost constant emphasis on the Dark Side of Existence that comes close to making the book seem a little juvenile. However, the stories are so consistently well-written that everything in them is convincing in their own terms, whether they depict mundane cruelty and tragedy or show the more imagnitive side of McEwan as in the opening story, 'Solid Matter' and 'Conversation with a Cupboard Man'. 'Homemade' and 'Butterflies' are the two most distasteful, tales of sexual abuse told by the abuser, but both are compelling and memorable. It's in 'First Love, Last Rites', however, the story which provides the book's title, that McEwan really shows the promise that flowers in his novels, an intensely atmospheric narrative that deftly draws the reader in.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating introduction to Ian McEwan, 30 Aug 2013
By 
Bacchus (Greater London - Surrey) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: First Love, Last Rites (Paperback)
This is the first Ian McEwan book I have read. I know that he well known for writing novels rather than short stories, which is what this book contains. I cannot therefore make any generalised comment about McEwan's style.

Years ago, I read a short story by Angus Wilson called Raspberry Jam. It concerned the visit by a young boy to a pair of genteel elderly spinsters in his village. During this visit, these spinsters out of the blue begin to vent their frustrations in life on their pet bullfinch by mutilating and killing it. Angus Wilson was one of Ian McEwan's mentors on the Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglia and the juxtaposition of the genteel and the macabre shown in many of Angus Wilson's short stories is on display in First Love, Last Rites, McEwan's first collection of eight stories, published when he was only 27 years of age.

My feeling as I read this book was that here is a phenomenal talent that had not fully settled. I think that the skill of writing a short story is very different to that of a novelist. I felt that when each story was finished that there was more that could have been written to explain the story or that the conclusion was not quite 'conclusive' enough.

That said, I did enjoy some of the stories, particularly Butterflies, a story of how a young man's kidnapping and drowning of a young girl in a canal and Homemade, a story concerning another young man's incestuous seduction of his sister. Inevitably some stories are more memorable than others and two days after reading of a couple of them, I am hard-pressed to recall much of what the story was about. However, there is a great sense of atmosphere and character and I am glad to have read these stories.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Twisted twists, 12 Jan 2014
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Twisted twists and uncomfortable plots looking at the darker side of human behaviour. Each short story leaves the reader with a sour taste in their mouth - exactly what I think McEwan would want.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Just about kept me reading, 22 Feb 2013
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Stories and writing a bit underdeveloped. I have read almost all IanMcwan's books and this is probably the least enjoyable. Although chronologically first ( I think) this book is probably not a good place to start for anyone new to his work as this may put you off and cause you to miss some of his later excellent work.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Rough notes for his far better novels, 22 Jan 2013
By 
Neasa MacErlean (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: First Love, Last Rites (Paperback)
These short stories make up Ian McEwan's first published work. Back in 1975 he was experimenting, as he has said, and trying to find his voice. They are not particularly appealing or enlightening, apart from demonstrating how a great writer starts off. Nearly all of them concern rather unpleasant or peculiar characters - a theme he picks up in his novels. But most of these stories are simple, mainly reflecting one viewpoint and telling one simple story in the order that it happens. I would only recommend them for fans of Ian McEwan or writing students.
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First Love, Last Rites
First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan (Paperback - 5 Jun 1997)
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