For some people the two words ‘Ian McEwan’ will have them running for the hills from any blog post. I personally am quite a big fan, in fact as yet there haven’t been any of his books that I haven’t liked (enjoyed isn’t always a word you can use with McEwan) though I might have struggled with a few here and there. I had, until now, never tried his short stories – short stories seem to be the perfect reads between Green Carnation submissions at the moment. ‘In Between The Sheets’ is a collection that I borrowed from my Mum when I stayed recently and thought it was about time I gave a whirl. This can prove a risk, as short stories are hard to write, I have noticed in the past (not naming any names) some of my favourite authors can’t do it, could McEwan?
You can pretty much guess what this collection centres on from its title ‘In Between The Sheets’ but rather than just a collection of stories based around sex and sexuality McEwan uses these themes to build a set of stories which are much more than that. ‘Reflections of a Kept Ape’ is both a nod towards Darwin’s views on evolution and also in a way looks at the ideas behind the Oedipus complex whist setting gorilla’s in a house in the present day as neighbours of humans. The title story ‘In Between the Sheets’ uses a young girl’s sexual awakening to highlight the marriage breakdown of her parents. ‘Two Fragments: March 199-‘ starts with a slightly sexual theme, which it returns to later on, but is actually in fact about a dystopian future which McEwan was predicting could happen in the 1990’s, this collection being published in 1978 and was a vision of London that I found quite harrowing yet most readable and quite fascinating.
Naturally in any collection there are some books which you instantly warm to and others you don’t, in fact I think a collection in which you love every single story is a rare thing. Both ‘To and Fro’ and ‘Psychopolis’ I didn’t really get and I think would need a re-read but I think that’s more an issue with me as a reader and my understanding and what I took from them rather than them not being such good tales.
I was bowled over by two particular tales in this collection, bar the two mentioned in the paragraph above they all worked from me just two stood out particularly. ‘Dead As They Come’ is a brilliant and comically dark tale of a man’s obsession with a woman, only as you read on you realise the woman is not what you would first assume (I can almost guarantee its not what your guessing either) and leads to a melodramatic climax which has me gripped and starting the tale all over again.
The opening story ‘Pornography’ (which I would have placed as the last tale because of its impact) is the tale of womanising O’Byrne and how he gets his comeuppance. In fact it’s a rather feminist tale which I would direct any reader to read if they think McEwan is a male testosterone driven writer, which he can be on occasion I admit. That particular story is one that had a rather wince inducing (if you are a man) twist in its tail that I really wasn’t expecting.
In fact I think I would direct both people who already love McEwan and haven’t read this collection along with people who think they don’t like McEwan to ‘In Between The Sheets’. This was his fifth fiction outing and I do like the darkness in his earlier work, and have taken ‘The Cement Garden’ off the shelves for a re-read, and this is brimming with it. It also shows glimmers of where he took his writing afterwards.
A book that will: appeal to those who like McEwan regardless and possibly show him in a very different light to those who aren’t sure about him. An entertaining and thought provoking collection which makes a very interesting read. 8/10
Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
The Breaking Point by Daphne Du Maurier – I am not comparing the authors, this is just one of my all time favourite short story collections of which some of its tales have stayed with me vividly ever since.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – This has the dark sensuality of this collection only instead is a modern twist on certain fairytales. Interestingly this was published a year after ‘In Between The Sheets’ so maybe there are other collections from the late seventies I should be looking up?
Can you recommend any other late seventies short story collections I might want to have a crack at as I liked this and ‘The Bloody Chamber’ so much? Has anyone read McEwan’s other collection ‘First Love, Last Rites’? What are your thoughts on McEwan in general?