First Love, Last Rites
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Bill Botten|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
The collection is McEwan's first published work and was regarded by the author (along with his second collection of short stories, In Between the Sheets) as an opportunity to experiment and find his voice as a writer. In an interview with Christopher Ricks in 1979, McEwan commented, "They were a kind of laboratory for me. They allowed me to try out different things, to discover myself as a writer." As a piece of work that portrays McEwan, the writer, at his youngest, it is perhaps fitting that the dominant theme is that of adolescence, of the blurry and perilous divide between childhood and adulthood; in addition themes of sex, perversion, and the grotesque in its many forms feature throughout.
The book is composed of eight short stories, with the title story coming seventh:
- "Solid Geometry"
- "Last Day of Summer"
- "Cocker at the Theatre"
- "Conversation with a Cupboard Man"
- "First Love, Last Rites"
McEwan's collection was well received by critics. In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, John Fletcher explained, "Such writing would be merely sensational if it were not, like Kafka's, pointed, so accurate, so incapable indeed of being appalled. In contemporary writing one has to turn to French literature to encounter a similar contrast between the elegance of the language and the disturbing quality of the material; in writing in English McEwan is wholly unique." Critic Robert Towers described McEwan's England in The New York Review of Books as a "flat, rubble-strewn wasteland, populated by freaks and monsters, most of them articulate enough to tell their own stories with mesmerizing narrative power and an unfaltering instinct for the perfect, sickening detail"; Towers called the collection "possibly the most brilliantly perverse and sinister batch of short stories to come out of England since Angus Wilson's The Wrong Set."
- "Martin Amis and friends," The Daily Beast, February 16, 2009
- Ian McEwan, "Martin Amis is Not A Racist," The Guardian, November 21, 2007. (McEwan: "I've known Martin Amis for almost 35 years.")
- Dictionary of LIterary Biography, Detroit, MI: Gale, 1983. Volume 14, British Novelists since 1960, pps 495-500.
- Robert Towers, "In Extremis," The New York Review of Books, 8 March 1979.
- Ryan, Kiernan: Writers and their Work: Ian McEwan (1994, Northcote House)