The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan is the third book I completed in the Books and Tea Reading Challenge. Clearly, I wasn’t progressing through the challenge as quickly as I’d hoped, but as a book of only – pages, I managed to finish it in just a day.
Related: New year, New me Challenges
This book is one of the more unsettling that I’ve read. Not quite comparable to IT by Stephen King levels, but it did leave me questioning what was going on in McEwan’s head at the time. Part of me was glad it was only 138 pages long.
The Cement Garden is told through the perspective of Jack, the second oldest child of four siblings. The story follows the four siblings’ summer, following the deaths of both of their parents. The family already seemed dysfunctional, but as the story progresses, the relationship between the siblings becomes more unsettling. This particular sense isn’t relieved by the introduction of Derek, the boyfriend of Jack’s oldest sister, Julie. Readers see how the family descends into a state of neglect over just a few chapters.
McEwan managed to make me feel a little sick to my stomach, to be entirely honest. Having read Atonement, and Enduring Love, I knew that McEwan touches dark topics, including rape and mental instability. I was not expecting incest to be the underlying conflict within the plot. The descriptions are actually quite graphic, and as a teacher of teenagers, there was nothing darkly exciting about it, like you might find in books about murders, or torture.
Perhaps it’s a personal response – reading and watching texts with graphic depictions of sexual crimes really upset me. This book was no exception. There’s a 1993 movie version of the story too – not sure I’m going to watch it to be honest!
Overall, do I recommend it? If you want a quick read, yes. Otherwise, might give it a miss and read one of McEwan’s other novels instead – Atonement is very good.