McEwan, Ian

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.
  • Date of entry: Jul-26-2004


A classic heterosexual triangle between an inordinately selfish young rake, O'Byrne (who helps his equally disgusting brother run a pornography book shop in London--thus the title of the short story) and two women: Lucy, a nurse, and Pauline, a nursing trainee. (The "Sister" used to refer to Lucy is a British term for nurse and does not mean she is a religious. See my review of John Patrick's The Hasty Heart, in this database).

O'Bryne has "the clap" (gonorrhea), yet cavalierly, even maliciously, continues his sexual relationships with both women, who do not (at the beginning of the story) know of each other's existence. When they learn of his affliction, his infidelity and his uncaring infliction of "the clap" on them, they begin to wreak a horrid revenge on him in a perversion of their surgical and nursing skills.


Pornography is a dark but masterful story of medically executed revenge by two infuriated health caregivers on a joint lover who does not have a health caregiver-patient relationship with either nurse. McEwan, who rose to justifiedly exalted ranks amongst fiction writers with his equally dark Cement Garden and who won the Booker Prize in 1998 for his novel Amsterdam (annotated in this database), has given us an unusual tale of vengeance recalling Congreve's famous couplet from "The Mourning Bride":"Heav'n has no Rage like Love to Hatred turn'd, / Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn'd."

This story is a rare instance of health caregivers using their craft for personal and malevolent ends--in this story, a surgical equivalent of rape, or anti- rape as it were. The ending is eerily reminiscent of the denouement in Yukio Mishima's The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sa, published in 1965.

Primary Source

In Between the Sheets, and Other Stories


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York



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