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4.0 out of 5 stars
The Cement Garden
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2002
A perverse but enchanting book; beautifully written and perfectly constructed. This is a story about a family of children who find themselves orphaned while living in a house surrounded by a wasteland, an image that perfectly reflects the emptiness of their days. Finding themselves without adult guidance, it shows how they slide into sloth and then perversity. Being a writer of consumate skill and a gifted story-teller, McEwan describes this without purple prose but with a sharp eye on human nature. Despite the shocking nature of the story, it has a realistic feel to it - One feels that these events could happen given the circumstances. The characters are delinated so convincingly that the reader, despite the perverse nature of the protaganists actions, is drawn into their dark world and is made to see it from their point of view. A modern classic.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 2004
The Cement Garden is McEwan at his best. Crueler than Enduring Love and Amsterdam, The Cement Garden tells the story of four children who fall apart gradually after the death of their mother. Their incestuous behaviour and malicious ways are a delight to read, and the narrator, Jack, is a brilliantly depicted character. Overall, I would highly recommend this. McEwan is truly the master of the chilling short novel, and The Cement Garden is executed with style and definite readibility. The end is too disturbing for words- an excellent read.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 16 February 2007
Although The Cement Garden was McEwan's first novel, i have only just got around to reading it and was definitely not disappointed. I have found with some other writers, who i have come to 'late' that going back to their earlier work has been a bit of a let down and that later works, where their style has been more perfected have been much more enjoyable and successful. However, i would not say this is the case with McEwan as i found The Cement Garden to be just as successful as some of his later novels.

This novel very much represents McEwan's style and choice of subject matter which he has addressed throughout his writing. The Cement Garden follows the lives of four children after their father, and shortly after, their mother pass away, leaving the siblings to fend for themselves. As their lives begin to disintegrate and the children become further removed from society, their are passages reminiscent of 'Lord of the Flies' which are both shocking and saddening. I do not, however, wish to give the impression that this is a sentimental novel. McEwan writes, as he does in all his fiction, with ease and an unflinching eye when describing death and more disturbingly abnormal sexual relationships.

While The Cement Garden is a very dark novel, it is also a story about adolescence and the awkwarness of growing up especially in an unconventional household as this one. I found his descriptions of the interaction between the siblings to be both honest and raw but fundamentally troubling.

I found this novel extremely disturbing, but McEwan is such an intelligent and unique writer that he seems to create narratives which we are compelled to read. If you have enjoyed other McEwan novels then do not hesitate to try this one but if you are new to this writer then The Cement Garden gives you a real sense of what to expect from him.

This is definitely a novel that will get you thinking and talking whether you like it or not- a sure marker of great fiction. There are descriptions that will stay with you long after you finish reading.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 16 September 2007
I thought I was going to hate this - as a keen gardener and lover of wildlife, how could I empathise with a father who intended concreting his entire garden? But the father dies and the children are eventually left to fend for themselves.

Despite being a darkly disturbing novel it somehow manages to grip the imagination and hold the reader's interest. The central story, in many ways so improbable, becomes plausible in the hands of such skilled writing. Ian McEwan portrays the indolence of youth and the hot summer days so vividly that you can hear the buzz of flies and feel the heat rising off the concrete.

In the end, it is easy to imagine how children in such a disturbingly distressing situation managed to slip through the safety net of the authorities.

Whether or not it is an 'enjoyable' read is a moot point but I would urge anyone who has not done so to read it for the sheer thought-provoking brilliance of the writing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Cement Garden is a creepy and unsettling book. After their parents die four children unite to prevent the outside world from knowing their situation. They fear that people in authority will come and interfere in their lives. This is an attitude carried over from their parents who seem to have cocooned the family in its own bubble. But their idyll cannot last and sibling power politics emerge....

McEwan creates a vivid picture of the hideous "cement garden" created by the father. The house is set in a strange setting of isolation - apparently surrounded by vacated and demolished buildings. The weather is hot and sultry and this permeates the whole book. (There are echoes of this atmosphere at the beginning of Atonement.) We are uncertain about when the story is set - very few clues in the narrative.

Although essentially a novella The Cement Garden is packed with ideas and images. Compelling and sinister.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This book will hanunt you: it is horrible and utterly believable, every word dripping with the meaninglessness of life and depression and confusion.
THe plot is quite basic: siblings trying to keep a family together, but its descent into chaos is a chilling addition to fine literature. It is so vivid that you can smell it. TO reveal more would spoil the readers' discovery of the plot.

While I prefer to stick to older classics, this one is truly worth the read. The atmostphere is so realistic and painful, so bleak, which reflects a writing style that is absolutely masterful.

Recommended, but not for the squeamish.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 24 April 2011
Philip Larkin famously described the adverse affect parents can have on a child; but omitted to mention that siblings can be even worse. The ones in this book being a case in point. Poor little Tom aged four, if left at the mercy of his adolescent (and how...) older brother Jack and sisters Julie and Sue, when they are orphaned by inadequate parents. Events unfold during a summer heat wave, horrific events that seem to take on a ghastly momentum of their own, which glues your eyes to the page and makes you wonder at the same time what kind of a mind could think up such mesmerising, skin-crawling grossness.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 12 March 2007
This is a dark, disturbing but exhilarating book. It is kind of a turbo-charged Lord of the Flies, except it replaces the youthful adventures of that book with a disturbing twist on the everday and the prosaic. You can tell from the start that there will be no happy ending; as the back garden is covered by a layer of concrete and cement it symbolises an end to a "normal" childhood, and the characters descend into an incestuous "fake-family" with children playing the roles of Mum, Dad and Baby. A well written and compelling read and the shortness of the book means that there is no let up. Brilliant.
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Living in an urban wasteland, four children survive the illness and death of their parents and contrive to carry on living alone through most of a long, hot summer. Told from the point of view of the elder boy, Jack, their solution to their mother's death seems entirely logical. Darkly introspective, Jack's thoughts and feelings dominate the novel. His love and desire for his older sister fuels the narrative but the younger boy and girl are equally well rounded. Their efforts to stay together and survive would not, one suspects, have lasted long, if it wasn't for the long summer school holiday and the arrangements their mother had left in place for a regular payment of cash from her savings. There is a brutal logic behind all their activities, but a tenderness too, especially in the way they allow the youngest boy, Tom, to regress to babyhood so that he becomes the girls' toy but also the reason they preserve their notions of civilised behaviour in what has become a strange and feral world.

McEwan has the gift of deeply empathetic writing that preserves the intense and alien individuality of an inner consciousness and the fragilities and compulsions that can govern the activities of children. This, his enormously impressive debut as a novelist, also has an air of someone discovering and overcoming the problems of writing at length and managing a novella, when he is more at home in the short story. Later, of course, he went on to triumph in the novel too, but here he is seen with the attributes of compression and exactitude at full power.
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Re-reading The Cement Garden after several years, one is struck by two things. Firstly, what a darkly compelling little novel it is, with its portrayal of a nightmare situation as something almost ordinary in nature. Secondly, what a tightly constructed piece of storytelling it is - way better than anything McEwan has done since.

The book is practically perfect in its construction, with a bleak, queasy world unfolding before our eyes, as told through the teenage Jack. In so many ways it is like an updated Lord of The Flies, with its shocking breakdown in social order, and acceptance of strange behaviour as the norm. In this respect, McEwan pretty much sets out the blueprint for other "shocker" novels like this that followed, such as Iain Banks' debut The Wasp Factory.

This is superior to that in many ways - the lean nature of the storytelling, the poetic language used to sketch out an ever darkening and decaying world in which the characters wander; the gentle power of the conclusion. With later books, McEwan always seems to run out of ideas right at the end - but here the mood is sustained right to the very end. As other reviewers have commented - a modern masterpiece. Haunting, horrible, brilliant.
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