‘First Love, Last Rites’ by Ian McEwan

As an unhappy art student, aged 18, I wandered into a stationery shop one lunchtime and noticed First Love, Last Rites on a carousel of Picador paperbacks. The carousel was a new thing. So too was Picador. So too was Ian McEwan. The cover image of a naked girl lying on a bed in the soft light of dawn appealed to the habitually lovelorn late-adolescent I then was. I wasn’t a book-buyer, but I spent my lunch money on that book – it cost me £1.25 – and seemed to find something of myself in each of the stories. It was only later that I realised that most of them concerned incest, masturbation, the killing of children. By then I was a student on the MA in Creative Writing at UEA, attempting to emulate this title story. Ian McEwan was my literary first love. Malcolm Bradbury, our teacher on the MA, sounded his last rites when he said one day in class, “The problem with Ian’s recent work is that he’s become too aware of the consequences of his own imagination.”

In First Love, Last Rites, Picador, 1976

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