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First Love, Last Rites [Paperback]

Ian McEwan
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 13 2000
The first collection of short stories -- winner of the Somerset Maugham Award.

Taut, brooding and densely atmospheric, these stories show us the ways in which murder can arise out of boredom, perversity can result from adolescent curiosity, and sheer evil might be the solution to unbearable loneliness.

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First Love, Last Rites + In Between The Sheets + The Comfort of Strangers
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Review

“A talented and genuinely imaginative writer, McEwan’s details often grow into strange, powerful images… the ironies, throughout this impressive collection are tellingly weighted.” -- Julian Barnes

“A brilliant performance… There’s an assured and terribly macabre depravity about Ian McEwan’s short stories… as if some of the characters from early Angus Wilson had been painted by Francis Bacon.” -- Anthony Thwaite, Observer

"Ian McEwan writes to shock and succeeds -- All his stories have a feeling of impending evil -- It is a tour de force of concision, and funny, too, in a deadpan manner." -- TLS

"A brilliant performance -- There's an assured and terribly macabre depravity about Ian McEwan's short stories -- as if some of the characters from early Angus Wilson had been painted by Francis Bacon." -- Observer

"His writing is exact, tender, funny, voluptuous, disturbing." -- The Times

"The Maestro." -- New Statesman

"McEwan has -- a style and a vision of life of his own...No one interested in the state and mood of contemporary Britain can afford not to read him." -- John Fowles

"A sparkling and adventurous writer." -- Dennis Potter

From the Back Cover

“A talented and genuinely imaginative writer, McEwan’s details often grow into strange, powerful images… the ironies, throughout this impressive collection are tellingly weighted.” -- Julian Barnes

“A brilliant performance… There’s an assured and terribly macabre depravity about Ian McEwan’s short stories… as if some of the characters from early Angus Wilson had been painted by Francis Bacon.” -- Anthony Thwaite, Observer

"Ian McEwan writes to shock and succeeds -- All his stories have a feeling of impending evil -- It is a tour de force of concision, and funny, too, in a deadpan manner." -- TLS

"A brilliant performance -- There's an assured and terribly macabre depravity about Ian McEwan's short stories -- as if some of the characters from early Angus Wilson had been painted by Francis Bacon." -- Observer

"His writing is exact, tender, funny, voluptuous, disturbing." -- The Times

"The Maestro." -- New Statesman

"McEwan has -- a style and a vision of life of his own...No one interested in the state and mood of contemporary Britain can afford not to read him." -- John Fowles

"A sparkling and adventurous writer." -- Dennis Potter

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Most helpful customer reviews
By Daniel Jolley TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format: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 outre (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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very original, somewhat morbid and quite weird July 12 2000
Format:Paperback
First I feel I should list the stories included in this collection, something almost all reviewers seem to forget to do, leaving those who are looking for specific stories in outer cyber-space:
1. "Homemade" 2. "Solid geometry" 3. "Last day of summer" 4. "Cocker at the theatre" 5. "Butterflies" 6. "Conversations with a cupboard man" 7. "First love, last rites" 8. "Disguises"
These stories are about weird people on the margins of society. Most of them have been written in the first person, in a way turning them into a kind of confession. Though it is written as if the 'subject' of the story is a unique scientific specimen set free in order to observe its behaviour, sometimes one identifies with ("Homemade" ?), or is repelled by the charachter ("Butterflies"). Often one may like and disklike the subject as the story goes along. What makes these stories interesting are the characters, the crazy people making their sometimes funny, sometimes abysmally pathetic confessions.They are only alike in that the subjects are all men. My favorites are "Homemade", full of black humor and irony, and "Disguises" where a boy, forced to dress at home like a girl by the aunt that has adopted him, begins to <think> as a girl, and goes on to see himeself as his own girlfriend. Complex? Read the story. "Coker" is special in that it is written in the third person, and it seems like a joke on modern theater: a narration about a group of down-and-out actors in the rehersal of a play that recreates the sexual act under the direction of a cynic homosexual. Though funny, its quite short. It originally appeared in Time Out.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The sentences ooz beauty Aug. 29 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Yet they still churn your stomach and question your own thoughts on the matters raised. I was only 13 when i first read this book and it did quite honestly (cliche) change my life.
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4.0 out of 5 stars a good read Aug. 1 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is the best book by Ian Mcewan that i've read. One can have opinions about the subject matter, but i think that Mcewan goes about it whit great care
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars macabre depravity a la grotesque. July 15 2005
By Cipriano - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I would begin my review by saying that if you are going to begin a journey into the wonderful world of McEwan, don't begin here. Then I would say that he is one of my favorite writers, EVER. He is incredibly good, but I am afraid that none of these eight stories really resonated with me. I would say that they don't represent how well he can write. If you began here, you might assume that McEwan is somewhat fixated with sexual rites of passage themes, when really he isn't.

From a pickled penis, in the first story; to childhood incestuous rape, in the second; to a third story (perhaps the best of all) with the least amount of sexual innuendo; to the fourth, depicting uncontrollable on-stage public sexual intercourse; to the fifth, sexually motivated murder; to the sixth, about a masturbatory recluse; to the seventh, the "art" of which, eluded me almost entirely; to the eighth, involving what I consider child abuse brought on by a self-obsessed, cross-dressing caregiver.

Are the stories written well? Hell yes.

McEwan is exquisite (present tense) and this book (1975) proves that "exquisiteness" is not just a recent development with him. It is the subject matter that I find objectionable. And not so much in an "immoral" sense as much as in an "unappealing" sense. In these stories he is dealing with such grotesque imagery, that I find it difficult to find these particular stories applicable. For the most part, they are about the kind of stuff that even the newspapers omit from their most disturbing back pages.

Maybe I don't want to look that close. Perhaps I don't want to read about how some guy "tosses himself off" in the closet of some attic somewhere, or how in a shadowy tunnel along a river, a young girl is sexually victimized and then slid into the river, like a fish that no one wanted, because it was too small for a good meal.

They are fairly brutal stories, I'm not kidding.

But McEwan is SUCH a great writer. If I have caught you in time, read him elsewhere, and then come back here when you are in love with him. And trust him.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bold, maudlin, and strangely brilliant set of stories May 6 2003
By Daniel Jolley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Early McEwan, promising but patchy Sept. 12 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"First Love, Last Rites (FLLR)" is Ian McEwan's first short story collection and while I love virtually every novel he has written so far - "Enduring Love", "Black Dogs" and "Atonement" are truly modern classics - FLLR is very early McEwan, showing promise but lacking the assured confidence of his later works. In this Somerset Maugham Award winning book, McEwan displays all the qualities that have come to characterise his style. Unafraid to break taboos or upset social conventions, he forces the boundaries of acceptability and occasionally goes for the jugular when he employs shock tactics to awaken our natural instinct for the dark and the macabre that lies dormant beneath our consciousness.
The opening vignette "Solid Geometry" is fascinating sci-fi-cum-horror fare. I couldn't help stifling a chuckle at the inventive way in which the protagonist finally "got rid" of his wife. "Homemade" about the awakening of a boy's sexuality via the only means available to him is another winner, both terrifying and funny. "Butterflies" and "Conversations With A Cupboard Man" are more conventional stories about loners and the devastating effect of repression. "Last Day Of Summer" is a gentle reminder that "still waters run deep" with grotesques. I don't think I got the essence of "Cocker At The Theatre" though it seems to be about sexuality and control and how they don't mix. The last two stories are to me the weakest in the collection. The title story seems tame and listless, ie, it goes nowhere, while the closing vignette "Disguises" is too befuddling to make any sense of. Is the aunt just mad or is she a closet cross dresser and a dominatrix in her little mad house ? Too much of a mindbender for me.
"First Love, Last Rites" is a qualified success. The highs are truly excellent but be prepared for a couple of disappointments.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Sept. 4 2002
By Steven Reynolds - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Reading McEwan's first collection of short stories is like stepping into the mind of a pervert, and finding yourself right at home. In these grim tales, McEwan explores the cusp of sex and death - a zone less adventurous writers might dismiss as pornographic or even sick. But this isn't pornography; it isn't even erotica. It's psycho-sexual reconnaissance and, as that, quite impressive. McEwan's talent here is to make his monsters human - to reveal the pain and suffering and morbid loneliness which drive these characters to do the things they do. Highly original.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and very peculiar collection . . . March 6 2003
By Michael K. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
McEwan is a master of the strange, odd, and peculiar. Of the eight stories in this collection of his early work, the best are the infamous "Homemade," which is rather humorous and only partly about incest, and "Last Day of Summer," which is very well told and displays the author's outstanding ability to develop characters with no wasted effort, and which has a dreadful ending. Not bad, merely dreadful. "Butterflies" is a spooky bit of psychopathology. "Conversations with a Cupboard Man" is another excursion into a warped personality, and you can understand exactly how this poor guy ended up the way he is. The title story, "First Love, Last Rites," is not the best, being an aimless sort of tale about being young and poor and semi-in-love, with eel-trapping and rat-catching thrown in. "Disguises" was a bit hard to read at first, being written in a sort of stream-of-consciousness style, but it gets better -- much better. McEwan obviously has a thing for aberrant mental and social development. "Solid Geometry" is probably the weakest piece here, a sort-of science fiction story that telegraphs its ending in about the third paragraph. "Cocker at the Theatre," on the other hand, is a truly hilarious short-short.
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