I first read The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan as part of my 6th form English class – yup, they’re letting us read this stuff at school. But isn’t that brilliant? My teachers were never afraid of introducing us to novels that were dark, controversial and simply amazing – The Cement Garden, Lolita, The Bell Jar, The Collector all featured on our reading lists at the age of 16.
The Cement Garden stuck with me because, to be honest, I love books that have a bit of bite to them. Jack, the narrator, and his three siblings hide the body of their dead mother in the cellar and attempt to live without adult supervision. Through this McEwan presents a peculiar coming of age story the explores isolation, family ties and sexual experience.
Jack’s relationships with his sisters highlights the dysfunctionality of the family. Jack takes on the role of father whilst his older sister, Julie, takes on the role of mother. This relationship and it’s dark development becomes the main plot point of the novel, something which might not appeal to everyone. Jack talks about games they used to play with their little sister Sue and the sexual element of these. As their role as parents grow so does the sexual atmosphere between them. It’s McEwan’s writing style that prevents the novel from becoming vulgar.
Although I hate to say it, there is something a little too foreseeable within the plot. The relationships are interesting, as are the characters, but the twists and turns aren’t too surprising. A fair amount of people have likened it to Lord of The Flies, of course there is nothing wrong with this. After all, aren’t we fascinated with how feral any faction of society would become if left alone?
The best part of the novel for me was the cellar scenes, ‘skeletons in the closet’ has nothing on ‘secrets in the cellar’. I’ll leave you to discover the brilliance of these scenes yourself.
“At the back of my mind I had a sense of us sitting about waiting for some terrible event, and then I would remember that it had already happened”
A fabulously dark novel that isn’t for everyone. McGwen’s writing prevents the novel from becoming vulgar, and instead remains an interesting take on the society of children, or in this case adolescents. However, maybe just maybe, there is something too predictable within the novel?
Read this article from The guardian for more – Ian McEwan on The Cement Garden, sexual gothic and being in the ‘toddlerhood of old age’