I am not in general much of a re-reader. I think it’s because with so many new books out there each week I always feel like I might be missing out on something. Every now and again though one of my previous favourite reads will take my fancy or seem to be calling to me and Ian McEwan’s debut novel ‘The Cement Garden’ which was recommended when I asked on twitter for a shirt dark read that might take a hold of me during a mini reading funk (yes I have had one of those already in 2011, fortunately it seems to have passed) and though I had read it I thought it might be just the ticket and indeed it was.
‘The Cement Garden’ is only 144 pages but it’s a book that certainly packs a punch. After the death of their mother Julie (17), Jack (15), Sue (13) and Tom (6) decide, with their father already dead, that rather than be separated and go into care they will cover up their mother’s death by encasing her in cement in the basement. If you are thinking that this is a grim start (and I haven’t given much away as that’s very near the beginning) thinks get darker as the book progresses. Soon Jack begins to take the role of head of the house to a new level and the siblings begin to become aware of their own sexuality, which leads them to look at each other in a whole new light, including Julie’s dating of Derek which threatens the whole dynamic and leads to a rather dramatic dénouement.
To say much more would be to ruin what can occasionally be a jaw dropping and shocking read. Having read it before I thought the effect might not be so great on me, I was wrong. I found the atmosphere and the things that were left unsaid even more ominous than the first time round and actually more uncomfortable than the events that happen as the book progresses. At the same time it’s a fascinating look into the psyche of teenagers and young adults as they grow and indeed how they cope with death and their own mortality, though of course most teenagers don’t bury their mother, start to experiment in cross dressing or with their own siblings.
Some people will no doubt find this book distasteful. I’m not really someone who thinks you should always be sitting comfortably with a book and after all this is fiction. It’s incredibly written, the writing being taught to create the same atmosphere, and is well told and constructed. It’s dark as well as occasionally, and you might find this odd, being sometimes rather melodramatically comic. Even though you might not like the characters or what they do you won’t be able to stop yourself from routing for them as the novel goes on. Or maybe that’s just me? It’s a book thats horrifically gripping and will stay with you for weeks afterwards. 9.5/10
I would recommend you give this a whirl, be you a fan of McEwan or not, even if you think it might make for a rather uncomfortable read. I personally would like to see McEwan go back to his darker roots with his next novel as when he does bleak he des it with brilliance.