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[268] The Cement Garden – Ian McEwan

” We hardly spoke at all to each other about Mother. She was everyone’s secret. Even Tom rarely mentioned her and only occasionally cried for her now. I looked around the cellar for other signs, but there was nothing. [7; 98]

Moleskine Guy is now officially weirded out, or spooked out by Ian McEwan. Unlike The Comfort of Strangers, a suspense that amounts to an ambivalence, The Cement Garden is a horror novella, with a shocking subplot.

After his first heart attack he stopped work on the garden altogether. Weeds pushed up through the cracks in the paving stones. Part of the rockery collapsed and the little pond dried up. [1; 21]

The father of four children dies. His death is quickly followed by the death of the children’s mother. In order to avoid being taken into care, the children hide their mother’s death from the outside world, guarding the secret from everyone. They turn the cellar in the basement into a tomb, encasing their mother’s corpse in cement left over from the building of the garden.

My sisters and I no longer played together on Julie’s bed. The games ceased not long after Father died, although it was not his death that brought them to an end. Sue became reluctant. [3; 35]

Jack, the fifteen year old narrator, enters into an incestuous relationship with one of his sisters, while their youngest brother begins to experiment transvestism. To complicate matter further, Jacks feels jealous and directs hostility toward a man whom his oldest sister dates. This man becomes very interested in what might be hidden in the cellar.

We had not been at all careful with Derek. Often what was in the cellar did not seem real enough to keep secret. [10; 140]

Subversion in age and role is the main theme in The Cement Garden. Burying the dead and engaging in sexual activity are probably the type of work anybody least expects to have befallen children. It’s not so much that they are free of supervision that shocks me, it’s the the banality of evil. The book is shocking, morbid, and full of repellent imagery.

153 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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24 Responses

  1. Yeah, his early stuff’ll do that to ya. I actually think he mellows out later but he always spins his stories off of some kind of horror or trauma. Good times!

  2. Reading McEwan’s current fiction, it is easy to forget how much of a stir The Cement Garden caused. The controversy caught the attention of an impressionable fifteen year old and I’ve been reading him since.

    Although it isn’t a popular choice, Black Dogs is the McEwan that really worked for me.

    • I’m sure it would have freaked out conservative America, consider that its content. Although his works aren’t my favorites, I will continue to peruse him because there seems to have a spell.

  3. wow, I’m not sure, but I think that is all a bit too much for me.

  4. The banality of evil. That always seems to be the perfect expression for books like this. I love spooky, creepy stories, but this one seems to have crossed that little imaginary line between fun and wrong. Funny, I”ve never heard of this book of McEwan’s. Maybe there is a reason for this!

    • I thought the naivete of the children might have led to the burial of their mother in their very own home. But I just don’t understand the incest part.

  5. Yeah, this happens with McEwan sometimes. Like Caite, I found this book to be a bit too much. Too creepy, too…something.

  6. This sounds like it has the same tone as McCarthy’s Child of God. Have you read that one? Totally different subject but the same feel. I was deeply disturbed while reading it, yet I couldn’t put it down.

    • I’ll have to look for McCarthy’s Child of God. Now my question is: Does McEwan write anything that is not creepy other than Atonement?

  7. This definitely sounds like one I will skip. I just can’t bear the whole incest thing and coupled with the other elements you have written about, it just isn’t compelling me to read it!

    • The book was recommended to me for my Amtrak trip. I didn’t get to read it until last weekend because The Comfort of Strangers had somewhat turned me off. I like this one better actually but it’s just so creepy!

  8. This is my favorite McIwan. It is all the things you said, but I just loved it. I was just shocked, and it’s so rare that that happens.

  9. This sounds very interesting, spooky but interesting. I may have to put it on my list although McEwan frequently disappoints me.

  10. This one really is not for the faint of heart. I liked it, but I think you have to be in the mood for something dark.

    • I finished it all in one sitting, less than two hours. I agree you have to be in the mood for these dark themes. I wish I have known before what I am getting into.

  11. I’m pretty sure this one is probably not my cup of tea. I’ve been looking for another title by this author because I liked Atonement so much. I’ll peruse some other titles. Sounds, though, like he might be habitually weird.

  12. Matt – I need a better sense of this book. Your review is excellent, and I get the feeling you didn’t like/enjoy it (although nothing there sounds like-able or enjoyable). Did you find it redeeming in any way? Was it worth it? It sounds intriguing, but I can’t decide whether to buy it or not.

  13. […] [268] T&#1211&#1077 Cement Garden – Ian McEwan « A Guy's Moleskine Notebook […]

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