Bibliofemme Bookclub An Irish Bookclub

January 10, 2012

First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan

Filed under: Book Reviews,General Fiction — The Artist @ 12:55 pm
First Love, Last Rites Book Cover First Love, Last Rites
Ian McEwan
Random House

First Love, Last Rites is Ian McEwan’s first collection of short stories; it won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976.

McEwan’s characters are a strange lot; a man who ‘disappears’ his wife, a paedophile, a rapist, orphans and an infantilised man. What is stranger, however, is that any shock value one could attribute to the choosing of such persons is dissipated by their normality. The possibility of them being and seeming absolutely real, absolutely among any of us.

The line between conventional normality and that of accepted behaviour is traversed here with quiet steps. McEwan’s intimates don’t jump or shout their way into aberrancy but quietly slip there unbeknownst to the supposed delineation.

In ‘Solid Geometry’ the banal breakdown of a marriage takes a bizarre sci-fi turn. ‘Homemade’ is a disturbing look at burgeoning sexuality and sexual curiosity. ‘Last Day Of Summer’ is a melancholy and lonely inroad into the life of a young orphaned boy living with his bother in a commune type community, whereas ‘Cocker At The Theatre’ is more of a dirty giggle than a treatise on the human psyche. We hear the victim of infantilism struggle with this fate in ‘Conversations with a Cupboard Man’, with the realisation of what has happened to him and his aching comfort in the abuse, whereas in ‘Butterflies’ we walk with the abuser; a lonely mal-adjusted man who becomes a paedophile and murder. In the story of the title we see something of the listless boredom of a de-romanticised reality and in ‘Disguises’ the strange relationship between an aunt and her nephew, who she has taken in on her sister’s death, the boy becoming both plaything and audience.

It is easy to see the Author of this collection going on to write such lauded works as the The Cement Garden, his interest in and empathy with the aberrant firmly intact.

This collection is not a whole study with works such as ‘Solid Geometry’, ‘First Love Last Rites’ and ‘Cocker’ standing out as being separate forays. However, all, bar ‘Coker’, is written in the first person from the vantage point of a male protagonist lending them a somewhat confessional quality – perhaps a view into McEwan’s own psyche, a dancing along the margins of his own capabilities and understanding.

There is a simple calm to McEwan’s writing that is more sinister that any fast passed thriller. You might think you’d be disgusted or shocked by the subject matter but McEwan’s calm delivery disallows this reaction. His oeuvre is that of the aberrant normality, the grey area of perversion, the unacceptable, amoral or warped.

This is a great set of short stories, to be recommended to both readers and writers. The Artist

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