McEwan’s In Between the Sheets collection was published in 1978. Some of the stories are typical of his early transgressive work. Others point the way forward to the brilliance of his later career. ‘Two fragments’ is one of the latter.
In twenty pages it manages to tell a whole novel worth of things. It is so compressed, so ripe, so well-developed. The characters feel alive, with years of past and maybe years of future.
His picture of a dystopian London is chilling in its tiny, well realised details. Homeless people use a massive fountain in the public area as a toilet. The everyday experiences of life go on: Henry wakes from a dream; his daughter asks him questions about her body.
Henry has compassion, an unsentimental compassion so unadorned in its telling, helping a Chinese man move a wardrobe, and it’s this that makes me think of his later work. Because I think he has become such a compassionate writer. And you never would have thought it reading his first short stories or The Comfort of Strangers.
Saturday is written in third person; Sunday in first person. The two halves complement well, leaving a rounded taste in my mouth.
On the basis of this dystopian story, I think McEwan could have become one of the greatest SF writers ever. (Child in Time is further evidence.) Instead, he trod his own singular path which I am so grateful for.
Great review of the collection here: http://blogcritics.org/archives/2003/09/16/040448.php