Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 June 2019
McEwan’s first three books, the short story collections First Love, Last Rites (1975) and In Between the Sheets (1978), and a first novel, The Cement Garden (1978), made him notorious as the author of fictions preoccupied with violence and deviant sexuality. A second longer work, The Comfort of Strangers (1981), similarly features murder and sadomasochistic sex, and all of these works display a closed-in quality that the author later professed to find puzzling. This chapter considers the critical impact of this work, but also its relation to 1970s Britain, its context of production. The work’s focus on adolescent stasis and its several references to the early postwar years reference the political stalemates of the era and the demise of the collective mindset of the early postwar period. These contexts, it is argued, provide an under-recognized frame of reference for the early fiction, in particular its backward-looking helplessness and quotidian ennui.
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