Monday, April 13, 2009

Review:The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

How do I review this book? I've been scrambling to find something sugary sweet to pop in the DVD player to calm my troubled mind after reading Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden. Reminiscent of a Stephen King meets V.C. Andrews Flowers in the Attic (admittedly, I barely got through part of the first book in that series as a teen), I now find myself praying that I don't have strange nightmares tonight!

(Scrambling in the background...searching for Disney-esque film to calm a troubled soul.'s Harry Potter! Oh, but it has dementors, and I can't even handle a dementor at this point! Why do I not own Mary Poppins?!? Wait! I have The Sound of Music, and that has Julie Andrews in it, right?!? Oh, but it also has Nazis in it...never mind. Sigh. The problem with not having any lack sugary, happy plots to put your mind at ease. MUST get more Disney films ASAP!!!)

Synopsis: So, to get more serious, here is a brief synopsis...if I can even make one. The Cement Garden is a story about four children, who have lost their father, whom they didn't much care for, and must take care of an ailing mother on her death bed. The cement portion of the novel's title comes from an obsession the children's father had with making cement pathways throughout the family garden. With the death of their father, they are left with bags of leftover cement, and the weight of growing up too quickly.

Review: Really not knowing what to say, I feel that all I can say is that the word disturbing fits this novel on so many levels. (Those of you that read Faulkner's short story, "A Rose for Emily," would feel some kinship between that story and McEwan's. I actually really like this short story, and I love teaching it even more.) Having read many pieces of contemporary fiction in graduate school, I still can't remember feeling so cast about by a novel. Honestly, I simply didn't like it, and yet that makes me feel somehow unsophisticated in admitting my response. Sorry, but there it is. I really just didn't understand McEwan's mix of sexual impulses with the normal, casual occurrences of life. You somehow understand the point he's making about the innocence of children, making those early connections to their sexual selves, and feels so strangely placed in this story, and really quite disturbing. Okay, I get it. It's a reflection of our cultural/social upbringing.

I can't recommend McEwan's novel. I read this for the 1% Well Read Challenge over at 1% Well Read, and will be happy to move along to something new. I'm thinking I might either read Life of Pi (which I've heard is quite good), or The Inheritance of Loss. However, for the time being, I'm going to put Mama Mia in so that I can take my mind away from this story!

If you have read this novel, don't hesitate to post a comment or send me a message to discuss. I'm not usually one to be so thoroughly thrown by a novel, so it would be good to hear what anyone else thought!


  1. It was a difficult book to read, wasn't it? You're right though, the mix of the everyday with his sexual impulses and his thoughts on death made me feel a little unbalanced as well. I couldn't sleep after I'd read it. I'm sure I missed a lot in my reading of it. He went on and on about the area they were living in being desolate and horrible and I didn't make that connection until after I'd finished it. Like I said in my review though, I'll still go back!

  2. Yikers. I quit reading Atonement about halfway through. After your review of this one, I think Ian McEwan is just not for me!

  3. I love that Faulkner short story, so even though you didn't like it you made me curious! No reason to feel unsophisticated, though...taste is taste. I hate James Joyce, for example, and I know that many would want to throw rotten eggs at me for it, but there you go :P

  4. I'm so glad you reviewed this one! I've been working my way through McEwan's books, and I've loved all of them UNTIL The Comfort of Strangers, which was his second novel. So now I'm a little hesitant about reading this one! V.C. Andrews?! lol Even though I love "A Rose For Emily"...

    I've read Life of Pi and The Inheritance of Loss. I think Life of Pi was much, much better. Inheritance didn't feel at all fresh or original to me; I'm a big fan of Indian lit, but this one didn't impress me. I'm in the minority, though. ;)

  5. So there's incest in this book too? What? I'm terribly confused. But I also barely made it through Flowers in the Attic so... yeah. Definitely avoiding this one. :)

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