‘First Love, Last Rites’ by Ian McEwan

First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan, 1975

The magic trick:

Making the reader squirm with visceral descriptions throughout

This is a nasty bit of writing. Very good, don’t get me wrong. But nasty. It’s incredibly visceral. Everything, good and bad, here is a described for the reader without any shield. It’s not overly descriptive. It’s just very blunt. With purpose, of course. It’s a story about youth, and youth acts without understanding. The decisions and actions are almost violent in their starkness. So the story’s method of description fits well. And that’s quite a trick on McEwan’s part.

The selection:

I knew it was my own creature I heard scrabbling, and when Sissel heard it one afternoon and began to worry, I realized her fantasies were involved too, it was a sound which grew out of our lovemaking. We heard it when we were finished and lying quite still on our backs, when we were empty and clear, perfectly quiet. It was the impression of small claws scratching blindly against a wall, such a distant sound it needed two people to hear it.

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