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First Love, Last Rites By Ian McEwan

Updated on December 7, 2016
First Love Last Rites by Ian McEwan
First Love Last Rites by Ian McEwan

First Love, Last Rites By Ian McEwan - a collection of short stories

First Love, Last Rites is Ian McEwan's first collection of short stories and was originally published in 1975.

This collection was Ian McEwan's first published work and comprises a collection of eight short stories, all of which are summarised individually on this page.

All of the stories in First Love, Last Rites are linked with the central themes of sex, death and obsession and all bar one have a supplemental theme of adolescence (or at the very least young adulthood). All the stories are seen from a male perspective.

The stories are all on adult themes and contain references to sexual behaviours and violence which may disturb some readers.

"First Love, Last Rites" won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976.

There are eight stories in First Love, Last Rites as follows:

  • Solid Geometry
  • Homemade
  • Last Day Of Summer
  • Cocker At The Theatre
  • Butterflies
  • Conversation With A Cupboard Man
  • First Love, Last Rites
  • Disguises

Each story is summarised individually below:

Solid Geometry

A dark tale of a man who finds a novel solution to the demands made on him by his neglected wife...

The narrator of the story is bored with his wife. He'd far rather spend his time reading the diaries his great-grandfather kept with a view to their eventual publication.

Ultimately the diaries provide him with an unusual way to remove his annoying wife from his life permanently.

This story was adapted for TV in 2002 starring Ewan McGregor, Ruth Millar and Peter Capaldi.

Homemade

An unpleasant tale about a very unpleasant teenage boy...

A self-satisfied teenager is used to being "top-dog" amongst his friends in everything, especially "adult" behaviour including drinking, smoking, etc.

He panics when it seems his friend knows more about sexual matters than he does.

He decides that at any cost, he will be the first to lose his virginity - and opts for a very disturbing means to achieve his aim.

Last Day Of Summer

Bittersweet tale of a young boy who finds someone to love...

A twelve-year-old boy who, having lost both his parents, finds another mother figure in Jenny, a young woman who comes to stay as a paying lodger in the house occupied by the boy and his older siblings.

Jenny is kind and funny and grows very close to the boy and his young niece Alice who is somewhat neglected by her mother.

The boy likes to take Jenny and Alice out in his rowing boat on the Thames, and on the last day of the school holidays, the three take one final boat trip before the summer ends.

Cocker At The Theatre

Very short tale set in a theatre...

In a theatre, rehearsals are underway for a musical number with a difference...all the performers are naked and the song is about sexual intercourse.

Rehearsals are interrupted when the director realises that one couple aren't acting.

Butterflies

A lonely man turns into every parents worst nightmare...

A young, sexually frustrated man is lonely, listless and aimless.

On one of his walks into the rougher part of the town he lives in, he meets a little girl who seems interested in talking to him. Grateful for her company, he lets her walk along with him. However, the child is spoilt and manipulative and she cajoles the man into buying her a doll she sees in a shop window. He gives into her pleas and buys her the doll. The child is content and self-satisfied that she's got her own way and feels that she has some kind of control over the young man.

They walk onward, but as the journey progresses, the child realises far too late, that far from having the upper hand in her new relationship, the young man has taken her into a situation which is way beyond her control.

Conversation With A Cupboard Man

Mother love gone badly wrong...

A man tells his life story to a social worker. He describes how, following the death of his father, his mother tried to compensate for the children she had wanted but could no longer have, by refusing to let him grow up.

First Love, Last Rites

A young couple finds their idyllic existence threatened...

A teenage couple explore each other's minds and bodies throughout a long hot summer. Their animal passions are echoed by the unmistakable sounds of a large rat living behind the walls and under the floorboards of their flat.

This story was adapted into a film in 1997 starring Natasha Gregson Wagner as Sissel and Giovanni Ribisi as Joey.

Disguises

A tale of cross-dressing...

Henry is a young orphaned boy who is adopted by his eccentric actress aunt. Henry finds his aunt more than a little strange...especially when she forces him to dress up as a girl.

Critique

Review

Book review of First Love, Last Rites

First Love, Last Rites was Ian McEwan's first published work and for those readers who may be familiar with McEwan's later (and more famous) works, such as Atonement or Sweet Tooth, this is a very different Ian McEwan to the polished commercially successful writer he eventually became.

I don't know if it was McEwan's intention to shock at the time he wrote these stories in the early 1970s, but well over thirty years later, some of the subject matter will undoubtedly offend and even upset some readers. The themes used include murder, rape and child abuse - bold topics for any era, but in some of these stories you can see the spark of "greatness" that enables McEwan to transcend mere unpleasantness...but he doesn't succeed with all these stories.

Two of the stories stand out from the others for negative reasons.

Homemade is a very nasty tale about a very nasty boy. It's a tale of selfish wickedness and neither the story or it's main character has any redeeming qualities. It's an unsatisfying tale in as much as the reader can't help but feel repulsed by the actions of the main character and naturally looks for some kind of retribution that does not come. The story just left me feeling uneasy and that's not a good feeling to evoke in a reader.

Cocker At The Theatre - I've read some rubbish in my time and this tale is right up there near the top of the list of "Things I Wish I'd Never Read". To say this story is weak, is putting it mildly. It's an absurd story and how it got included in this collection is a mystery to me. Dreadful.

The story that stands out in this collection is Last Day Of Summer. An elegant, bittersweet, beautifully written and evocative tale of affection, as intricate and fragile as a spider's web. Touching, poignant and sad, it's one that will stick in your memory.

The other tales are a mixed bag ranging from "not too bad" (Butterflies, Disguises and Conversation With A Cupboard Man) to "not too good" (Solid Geometry and First Love, Last Rites).

Would I say this collection is worth reading? On the whole, yes, although as I said, the themes used are bold and will clearly not be to everyone's taste. The young McEwan certainly knew how to provoke a reaction, but whether he provokes the "right" reaction in many readers is down to the perception of the individual. He went on to have an exceptionally successful career as a writer, so this collection certainly didn't do him any harm...

First Love, Last Rites is available from Amazon.com

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© 2008 LouiseKirkpatrick

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