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The Cement Garden Paperback – January 13, 1994

132 customer reviews
Book 2 of 5 in the Ian McEwan Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A novel and a collection of short stories by English writer McEwan offer chilling portraits of sexual obsession.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.


“Darkly impressive.” -- The Times

“A superb achievement: his prose has instant, lucid beauty and his narrative voice has a perfect poise and certainty. His account of deprivation and survival is marvellously sure, and the imaginative alignment of his story is exactly right.” -- Tom Paulin

“Marvellously creates the atmosphere of youngsters given that instant adulthood they all crave, where the ordinary takes on a mysterious glow and the extraordinary seems rather commonplace. It is difficult to fault the writing or the construction of this eerie fable.” -- Sunday Times

"A shocking book, morbid, full of repellant imagery - and irresistibly readable...The effect achieved by McEwan's quiet, precise and sensuous touch is that of magic realism -- a transfiguration of the ordinary that has far stronger retinal and visceral impact than the flabby surrealism of so many experimental novels." -- New York Review of Books

"His writing is exact, tender, funny, voluptuous, disturbing." -- The Times

"The Maestro." -- New Statesman

"McEwan has--a style and a vision of life of his own...No one interested in the state and mood of contemporary Britain can afford not to read him." -- John Fowles

"A sparkling and adventurous writer." -- Dennis Potter

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st Vintage International ed edition (January 13, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679750185
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679750185
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #432,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

96 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Paul Frandano on September 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
Ian McEwan freezes our attention on the grotesque, then renders grotesquerie plausible, even "normal." Indeed, what is "natural" assumes an expanded range of possibility in McEwan's writing, adding fresh dimension to psychological horror. The Cement Garden, his first novel (and better described as a novella), brings these observations graphically to life, in precise, crystalline prose.

The Cement Garden has been likened to Golding's Lord of the Flies for its careful evocation of a society of young people, suddenly relieved of adult oversight, that evolves rapidly, opportunistically, organically in response to specific challenges posed by an unusual environment. In McEwan's working of these materials, related in the flat, dispassionate voice of Jack, the 14-year-old narrator, the challenging environment is the solitary house in which Jack, his brother, and two sisters live, set in the midst of a desolate urban landscape cleared for a freeway that never gets built.

The book takes its name from the paved-over garden Jack's fussy, acerbic father, a heart patient, envisions as tidier as easier to maintain. The exertions of the project kill the father, to no one's apparent regret, in the first chapter, leaving a sizable inventory of cement behind. With the demise of their long ailing mother shortly thereafter, the orphaned children are forced to recreate the family unit. Fearful of the split-up of the family, foster care for little Tom, and other worrisome ministrations of an impersonal state, the children decide to tell no one of their mother's death and to entomb her in concrete in the basement.

Jack recounts these and other details, and the changes each child undergoes, in his matter-of-fact voice.
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By on April 7, 1998
Format: Paperback
"I did not kill my father," this slim novel begins, "but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way." Soon the mother is dead as well, and four children are left to fend for themselves in a secluded house in a dying part of the city.
There's Julie, the eldest, a ripe & willful beauty who's almost a woman; there's Jack, the narrator, a boy bewildered by his growing body & appetites; there's Sue, bookish & ever-observant; and then there's Tom, the baby of the family, who actually seems to get younger, regressing as the days go by. These four form an uneasy family, slowly learning to be self-sufficient in this strangely apocalyptic setting.
But an intruder in the form of Julie's new boyfriend threatens their fragile stasis by asking too many questions. How long have the four of them been alone? And just what is buried under the crumbling pile of cement in the basement?
This book has been mistakenly marketed as a horror novel; it's horrific, sure, but not as horrible as the pulp that defines the genre. What makes it particularly good is its characters, the children who are both recognizably sympathetic and exotically extraordinary.
Ian McEwan has created a taut & provocative thriller written in pitch-perfect and stripped-down prose. Beyond being a macabre morality tale, The Cement Garden is a psychological-suspense yarn, a perceptive portrayal of adolescence that will keep you riveted up to the final, climactic scene in an upstairs bedroom.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 16, 1998
Format: Paperback
Incest is the latest trendy topic- be it in book, movie, fiction, memoir- and it would be easy to brush it off as mere titillation. At first, "The Cement Garden" seems to be the epitome of this sort of gratuitously shocking genre, as it painstakingly gets inside the head of a young man and his secret desires. Upon closer examination, "The Cement Garden" reveals itself to be a far more ominous book. His desire for his sister becomes indicative of his need to grab an anchor in a world that has left him behind. As these four children struggle to make a family, the sexual energy that emerges becomes a better form of family love than that which they've known before. Though the children are English, they are the British equivalent of the kind of people we so quickly and easily make fun of- the natural target of a certain type of elitist humor. Rather than mocking these children for their transgression, the book's success comes when we ultimately understand the ways and the whys of why they do what they do. Therein lies the power, and the horror of the bleak landscape of the novel- it's the only love they'll maybe ever know. Having said that the book is an artistic achievement, I also want to add that when I finished it I couldn't be sure that I was glad I took that particular journey. I was utterly enthralled with the story and its raw honesty, but so depressed when it was over, as the world of the book was so hermetic and insular that there was no way out- necessary to the book but brutal on the reader. As an aside, the film adaptation is highly worth checking out as a most faithful visual translation, mostly as a result of the bizarrely appropriate casting. The film stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of French pop star Serge Gainsbourg and Chelsea girl Jane Birkin.Read more ›
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By John Hovig on December 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
THE CEMENT GARDEN is the gripping story of a small family, isolated from society, and struggling with events for which society maintains strict rules. It is a well-crafted reflection on society and normalcy. It is technically well-written, poetic and confident in tone, a superb psychological portrait.
Four children, who previously lost their father, now tend their ailing mother, whom they will soon lose as well. Two boys and two girls (two young and two teenaged), they attend school as normal, but the family has always been isolated. The mother hardly let them leave the house when she was alive, so they do not know how to handle her body now that she's died, and take it to the basement. As a subplot, the older boy and girl explore sexuality with each other, in a candid scene.
Suprisingly, we are not bothered by these activities as such. McEwan's psychological portraits are convincing, and his characters seem entirely normal. His writing skill is evident when one realizes the sympathy with which these four characters are drawn.
The novel's tension comes unexpectedly from a banal source: The older girl has a boyfriend, a conventional person, but McEwan has convinced us the family is normal, so to us, the boyfriend is an outsider. How will the boyfriend act? Will he discover the secret? If so, will he reveal it? Will he become an insider, will he clean up the mess and help the four become legitimate, will he blackmail them, or will he tell society and let them be punished as normal? If the latter, will society punish them harshly?
At the end, one wonders how horrible the youth really were, even if they lived outside social norms. What is the line between innocently mistaken and socially unacceptable?
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