thelonereader

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

In General Fiction on July 4, 2010 at 1:28 am

Title: The Cement Garden
Author: Ian McEwan
Genre: Fiction
Rating: ****/****
ISBN: 0679750185

Ian McEwan is known for his seemingly effortless ability to make the grotesque seem normal, or really to force the question ‘what is normal?’ unto the reader. A mark of an excellent writer is that he/she can write about something that is disgusting to mainstream society without it becoming provocative or exploitative in a sense. Nothing was written in this book for a cheap thrill, even creepy aspect of action & characterization was necessary to understand & build the plot & theme of children left without their parents. It turns into a morbid story that changes into a tale about subversion of age & childhood/gender roles. They lose all footing once they lose their family structure.

The father has a heart attack one day in the garden & soon after, the mother succumbs to an unexplained illness after months of languishing at home in a stupor. What the two oldest children decide to do is keep their mother’s death a secret from the outside world. The eldest children Julie & Jack decide to put their mother’s body in a truck & cover it with cement in their cellar. They do this without much debate, as they do not want their family broken up & the younger children being put into orphanages.

What they believe is that they can manage the family, but it soon turns into chaos even if they do not recognize what is happening. The first sign of instability is how Jack has become sexually attracted to his sister Julie, though there were signs before the parents’ deaths that an unhealthy attraction existed. Jack also does care for grooming anymore, nor schooling. Julie has become fixated on an older man & is acting like the mother of the youngest, Tom, who has reverted to a toddler state & has decided to become a girl. Even the second oldest daughter in the family, Sue, supports his transition, asking why is it wrong for the child to dress this way.

I found that part particularly intriguing, as it gives a good commentary on what may be the reason why women can adopt masculine clothing & men cannot adopt feminine clothing without feeling degraded. McEwan puts in a feminist inspired commentary about it possibly being related to women being degraded by men, being seen as lesser beings. At the least, the reader will question why this is & ponder over it, despite being disturbed for the child in question. Tom’s main interest at first is dressing up as a girl to avoid bullying, but it later changes into a gender role reversal as he & his playmate dress up & pretend to be Tom’s parents or Julie & Jack as they are being seen as a couple even in the eyes of a young child.

What really intrigued me about the book was how it showed the unhealthy aspects of their grieving. It was as if they did not focus upon it at all or rather too much at times. Sue would seal herself up in her room, reading & writing in her diary to her dead mother. Jack would linger in a depression, withdrawing into himself. Tom regressed to a toddler state. Julie tried to play matriarch, but was caught between having a healthy relationship with a boyfriend & turning to her brother Jack for comfort.

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