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The Cement Garden (1978)

by Ian McEwan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,558973,560 (3.6)247
In the relentless summer heat, four abruptly orphaned children retreat into a shadowy, isolated world, and find their own strange and unsettling ways of fending for themselves.
  1. 61
    Lord of the Flies by William Golding (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both books show children suddenly left without controllers.
  2. 00
    Mother's Boys by Bernard Taylor (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Another story of a disintegrating family with incestuous overtones.
  3. 00
    Our Mother's House by Julian Gloag (FemmeNoiresque, SomeGuyInVirginia)
    FemmeNoiresque: The Cement Garden follows the same basic plot as Our Mother's House, with situations (children communing w/ hidden mother, a charming rogue male enters their lives & entrances one of the sisters, the neglected younger children suffer subverted into Ian McEwan's style. Our Mother's House is of a more heightened and gothic style. Like The Cement Garden, Our Mother's House was adapted into an underrated and unusual film with Dirk Bogarde, Pamela Franklin, Yootha Joyce and babies Phoebe Nicholls and Mark Lester.… (more)
  4. 00
    De rode strik by Mensje van Keulen (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Kinderen, alleen in huis, nemen actie op een vergelijkbare manier
  5. 00
    The Masters of the House by Robert Barnard (SomeGuyInVirginia)
    SomeGuyInVirginia: Orphans alone in a house.
  6. 00
    Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera Cleaver (SomeGuyInVirginia)
    SomeGuyInVirginia: Orphans home alone.
  7. 00
    The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane by Laird Koenig (SomeGuyInVirginia)
    SomeGuyInVirginia: Orphans home alone.
  8. 02
    We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Monika_L)

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» See also 247 mentions

English (86)  Dutch (4)  Finnish (3)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  German (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (97)
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
This was an easy read and the author’s writing style was clear and concise. However, the content on this one is a little, um, blech. The story is essentially a love story between a brother and sister, a romantic love story. Two major events structure the plot, the death of the mother precipitated by the death of the father, and the arrival of the boyfriend. The novel is character-centric and does a good job of characterization. It also bears the symbols that are a part of the setting that create a continuing motif (concrete) and reinforce certain themes such as desolation, abandonment, and loss of any potential. This is a bleak story that culminates in the climax, sexually, of the lead pair (blech) then the cops finally show up because of the douchey boyfriend walking in at the start of the, ugh, climax.
I did like this novel though the central concern is very cringey, but the author’s easy-flowing style, atmosphere, and characters are excellent. Would I recommend this one? Yes, but with the caveat that if you’d rather avoid any brother-sister action you'll want to skip this one. ( )
  Ranjr | Apr 5, 2024 |
I understand the concept of unreliable narrators, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. ( )
  mishmashed | Dec 31, 2023 |
Horrible book. It is dark, gross and an absurd piece of fiction. The novel started off with a very intriguing line 'I didn't kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way'. That line had me hooked. But everything that came after the line is painfully twisted. ( )
  harishwriter | Oct 12, 2023 |
The Psychological Meaning of Social Normalcy

The Cement Garden is the gripping story of a small family, artificially isolated from society, and struggling with events others would consider normal, and which the rest of us in society maintain 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 have no clue 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, handled very deftly given its nature.

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, 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 could really have been, even if they lived outside social norms. What is the line between innocently mistaken and socially unacceptable? The novel is an excellent exploration of this question. Inquisitive readers will be able judge for themselves.

P.S. One minor complaint: I have heard the movie omits the book's last paragraph, which I think was wise. The author might have withheld the explicit conclusion, forcing the reader to guess what might happen.

This does not detract from the book's quality in any way, nor the reader's ability to consider the matter on their own. I just think that, as a matter of style, it might have been left a bit unfinished. We're only talking about one paragraph, anyway. ( )
  jvhovig | Aug 25, 2023 |
Well, that was strange! Lord of the Flies-like quickie about a dysfunctional family. Some of his descriptions are beautiful; excellent writing style. ( )
  kwskultety | Jul 4, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
The Cement Garden is in many ways a shocking book, morbid, full of repellent imagery—and irresistibly readable. It is also the work of a writer in full control of his materials.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, Robert Towers (pay site) (Mar 8, 1979)

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
McEwan, IanAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bertola, StefaniaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Enzensberger, ChristianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hockney, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holt, Heleen tenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wagner, AstridEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I did not kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In the relentless summer heat, four abruptly orphaned children retreat into a shadowy, isolated world, and find their own strange and unsettling ways of fending for themselves.

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