The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan | Here’s to Happy Endings
There’s a lot to unpack with the cement garden.
First of all, it’s my ideal book, incredibly dark and haunting, a thriller you won’t soon forget. it’s hard to find a thriller that truly baffles me and shakes me to the core. The Cement Garden has done just that: certainly the kind of book I’m not sure I’ll soon forget.
Also, I think it’s important to note that the cement garden reminds me a lot of the flowers in the attic. If you’re familiar with that book, you know that it deals with some tough situations and dark themes, including incest. You’ll also find a bit of that in the cement garden, between Jack and Julie. It was honestly quite disturbing, and for many people it will be a deciding factor in whether or not to read this book. while I found it disturbing, it didn’t make me want to stop reading or anything, because there was so much else in the book and I felt like it was just a minor story arc.
“girls can wear jeans and cut their hair and wear shirts and boots because it’s okay to be a boy; for girls it’s like a promotion. but for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, according to you, because deep down you believe that being a girl is degrading.”
The Cement Garden is told from the point of view of 15-year-old Jack, one of four brothers who live in a house with their parents. After his father’s death, the mother does the same soon after, leaving four children alone. Seventeen-year-old Julie is put in charge, much to Jack’s dismay, but he eventually agrees and allows her to do as she wishes. the two are faced with a challenge: what should they do with her mother, now that she is dead? if they alert authorities, they are likely to be separated and placed in foster care or an orphanage. afterward, the house is likely to be torn down, both of which her mother did not want. so what would they do?
“In the back of my mind, I had this feeling that we were sitting there waiting for some terrible event, and then I remembered that it had already happened.”
With none of their parents alive, the four are completely unsupervised and are free to care for themselves, though they don’t appear to be doing very well. Jack spends his time without bathing, Julie dates older men, and the younger brothers have problems of their own.
Can Julie, Jack, Sue and Tom keep their devastating secret? Or will someone outside the family discover the secret that not only unites them, but also separates them?
I had never read anything else by ian mcewan. So this was my first foray into his writing style. I didn’t even know this book existed until I read an article about the most haunting movies ever made, and The Cement Garden made the list. I read that it was based on a book of the same name, so I looked it up and decided to give it a try.
I think the most disturbing part of this book was just… what the kids did and how well they did it. As a mother, it’s pretty scary to have read this book and see how the children carried on after their parents died.
It’s also important to remember that this book was originally published in 1978. Times back then were a little different than they are now, so the main characters acted differently than they would today. Honestly, that was part of the charm of this novel: it was like I stepped foot in a time machine the whole time I was reading. I love it when a book can transport me like that!
The growth of the characters in this novel is just…not what I expected. I felt that most of the characters didn’t really improve or become better as people. Not every novel has a great character development arc, and that’s okay. I feel like maybe they should have improved a bit from everything they had to put up with during the novel.
Would I recommend it? yes, and no. yes, if this type of book is your thing. if you’re bothered by death or incest (and those are pretty big things that bother you), this book probably isn’t for you. but if you like books like flowers in the attic and lord of the flies, this is a great read.
I’m not so sure I want to see the movie though.