Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

I picked this short novel as my next read, because I thought it might be a respite from the last few long and intense works on my reading list. Well, my streak is now at four. McEwan is one of my favorite authors. His fluid and brilliant prose has consistently reinforced my belief in him as one of the masters of 20th--century fiction.

The Cement Garden tells the story of a family nearly alone in a run-down area of abandoned and crumbling apartment blocks. One day, the father dies of a heart attack while working in the garden. Almost immediately, the mother takes to her bed and dies – apparently of cancer. This leaves Julia, Jack, Sue, and Tom to fend for themselves. The family had no relatives to check on the four youngsters and no neighbors who showed any interest in what was going on in a house McEwan describes as gothic.

Julia, the oldest, begins dating and her boyfriend becomes curious about the secrets the house contains. This story has the air of The Lord of the Flies in miniature. The children play games, fantasize, and more or less take care of the house and each other.

This intense novel is not for the squeamish or faint of heart, but it does have a mysterious air throughout the 140 pages. McEwan runs the race to the last word of the last page. The climax at the end has as much shock as any suspense story I have read in a long time. If this book were a movie – faithful to the text – I cannot see it getting anything less than an NC-17 rating. Nevertheless, I have to give this brilliant psychological novel five stars.

--Chiron, 12/12/10

1 comment:

Kerry said...

It is a movie, made in the 1990's. It hasn't benn rereleased on DVD though.