The Cement Garden

( 18 )


In this tour de force of psychological unease?now a major motion picture starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Sinead Cusack?McEwan excavates the ruins of childhood and uncovers things that most adults have spent a lifetime forgetting?or denying. "Possesses the suspense and chilling impact of Lord of the Flies."?Washington Post Book World.

In this tour de force of psychological unease--now a major motion picture starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Sinead Cusack--McEwan ...

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The Cement Garden

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In this tour de force of psychological unease—now a major motion picture starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Sinead Cusack—McEwan excavates the ruins of childhood and uncovers things that most adults have spent a lifetime forgetting—or denying. "Possesses the suspense and chilling impact of Lord of the Flies."—Washington Post Book World.

In this tour de force of psychological unease--now a major motion picture starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Sinead Cusack--McEwan excavates the ruins of childhood and uncovers things that most adults have spent a lifetime forgetting--or denying. "Possesses the suspense and chilling impact of Lord of the Flies."--Washington Post Book World.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Darkly impressive.” -- The Times

“A superb achievement: his prose has instant, lucid beauty and his narrative voice has a perfect poise and certainty. His account of deprivation and survival is marvellously sure, and the imaginative alignment of his story is exactly right.” -- Tom Paulin

“Marvellously creates the atmosphere of youngsters given that instant adulthood they all crave, where the ordinary takes on a mysterious glow and the extraordinary seems rather commonplace. It is difficult to fault the writing or the construction of this eerie fable.” -- Sunday Times

"A shocking book, morbid, full of repellant imagery - and irresistibly readable...The effect achieved by McEwan's quiet, precise and sensuous touch is that of magic realism -- a transfiguration of the ordinary that has far stronger retinal and visceral impact than the flabby surrealism of so many experimental novels." -- New York Review of Books

"His writing is exact, tender, funny, voluptuous, disturbing." -- The Times

"The Maestro." -- New Statesman

"McEwan has--a style and a vision of life of his own...No one interested in the state and mood of contemporary Britain can afford not to read him." -- John Fowles

"A sparkling and adventurous writer." -- Dennis Potter

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A novel and a collection of short stories by English writer McEwan offer chilling portraits of sexual obsession. (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679750185
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1994
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 348,615
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Jimmy Osborne’s play Meat was staged at Theatre503 in June 2012 in a joint production by FallOut Theatre and Theatre503. He is one of the writers selected for the 4Screenwriting 2013 Programme run by Channel 4, developing an original serial for television. His short play, This is Jack, Leave a Message, Alright? won a national BBC Writersroom competition and has been performed in London and Sydney. Jimmy’s collected short plays have recently been published as Transmission. He is a graduate of the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers Programme.

David Aula is a director and an actor. He was educated at Cambridge University. His directing credits include Mummies and Daddies (White Bear Theatre, FallOut); Something/Nothing (The Colour House Theatre, Black and White Rainbow); An Oak Tree (ADC Theatre, FallOut); Three Sisters (ADC Theatre, ADC); Hamlet (European Tour, ETG); the first-ever stage adaptation of Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden (Judith E. WIlson Drama studio, FallOut) and After the End (Corpus Playrooms, FallOut). He was the Assistant Director to Simon Evans on Madness in Valencia (The White Bear and Trafalgar 2, Black and White Rainbow) and The Misanthrope (The White Bear, Black and White Rainbow). His acting credits include Alceste in The Misanthrope (The White Bear, Black and White Rainbow); Nostalgia (Alma Tavern, Bristol, directed by Anna Harpin), Hypnotist in An Oak Tree (ADC Theatre, FallOut); Tupolski in The Pillowman (ADC Theatre, FallOut, directed by Abigail Rokison); Polonius in Hamlet (European Tour, ETG), and Cornelius in Cymbeline (Cambridge Arts Theatre, Marlowe Society, directed by Sir Trevor Nunn).


One of the most distinguished novelists of his generation, Ian McEwan was born in England and spent much of his childhood traveling with his father, an army officer stationed in the Far East, Germany, and North Africa. He graduated from Sussex University in 1970 with a degree in English Literature and received his MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.

McEwan burst upon the literary scene in the mid-1970s with two short story collections that highlighted with equal clarity his early predilection for disturbing, somewhat shocking subject matter and his dazzling prose style. Similarly, his 1978 debut novel, The Cement Garden, attracted as much attention for its unsettling storyline as for its stylistic brilliance. But even though his early work was saturated with deviant sex, violence, and death (so much so that he earned the nickname "Ian MacAbre"), he was never dismissed as a mere purveyor of cheap thrills. In fact, two of his most provocative works (The Comfort of Strangers and Enduring Love) were shortlisted for major U.K. awards.

As he has matured, McEwan has moved away from disquieting themes like incest, sadism, and psychotic obsession to explore more introspective human dramas. In an interview with The New Republic he described his literary evolution in this way:

"One passes the usual milestones in life: You have children, you find that whether you like it or not, you have a huge investment in the human project somehow succeeding. You become maybe a little more tolerant as you get older. Pessimism begins to feel something like a badge that you perhaps do not wear so easily. There is something delicious and reckless about the pessimism of being 21. And when you get older you feel maybe a little more delicate and hope that things will flourish. You don't want to take a stick to it."
Among many literary honors, McEwan has been awarded the Somerset Maugham Award for First Love, Last Rites (1976) and the Whitbread Prize for The Child in Time (1987). Nominated three times for the Booker Prize, he finally won in 1998 for Amsterdam. He has also received the WH Smith Literary Award and National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award for Atonement (2001) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Saturday (2005).

Good To Know

While developing the Harry Perowne, the neurosurgeon in Saturday, McEwan actually spent a year observing a neurosurgeon at work, which included time spent in the operating theater.

Although he is known principally for his novels, McEwan has also brought his vision to the screen as writer of the films The Ploughman's Lunch (1983) and Soursweet (1988).

Hollywood loves McEwan. Film adaptions of his novels include The Cement Garden, The Comfort of Strangers, The Innocent, Enduring Love, and Atonement.

McEwan is no stranger to controversy. In 1999, his first wife kidnapped their 13-year-old son.The child was returned and McEwan awarded sole custody. His ex-wife was fined for "defamation" of McEwan's name.

In 2002, Ian McEwan discovered that he had a brother born from an affair between McEwan's parents that occurred before their marriage and given up for adoption during WWII. Since their relationship has come to light, McEwan and his brother have met frequently and forged a friendship.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Ian Russell McEwan
    2. Hometown:
      Oxford, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 21, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Aldershot, England
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Sussex, 1970; M.A., University of East Anglia, 1971
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 18 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2009

    The Cement Garden

    The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan is a shockingly dark, morbid yet brilliant novel depicting the lives of four siblings left to care for one another when their parents die. The children, oldest Julie, Jack, Sue and Tom, the youngest who seems to grow progressively younger and more attached throughout the book, are faced with the challenges and mystery that come with being suddenly relieved of parental oversight. McEwan's writing in The Cement Garden stays true to the style he is most famous for- imagery so exact it can make the stomach turn (especially when describing the stench coming from the basement), and the morbid topics such as incest and death he so enjoys writing about. And aside the trials and tribulations that come with a lack of parental guidance, the two oldest children, Julie and Jack, are amidst their own changes as adolencents. When Julie's boyfriend, Derek, starts hanging around the house asking too many questions, "how long have you been living alone?" "what exactly is buried in the basement that is making that smell?", the four children begin to band together to preserve their relationships. But the relationships turn in the climactic last scene which makes you ponder and be disgusted by the weirdness of McEwans writing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2009

    The Cement Garden

    At the start of Ian McEwan's novel, The Cement Garden, the family of six appears to be a normal family with very unique relationships with one another. These relationships, especially among the children, are emphasized as the novel progresses and both parents pass away. The four siblings, Julie, Jack, Tom and Sue, find themselves in a very awkward situation as they are forced to survive, both physically and emotionally, in the very critical surroundings they reside in.

    The first moment in which the reader realizes the damaged innocence of the children is when they bury their mother in the basement with the cement that once belonged to their father. From this point on, their conventional understanding of family is distorted and they proceed to fulfill this deficiency by playing the roles of mother and father. A sub-plot of the novel is the sexual tension between Julie and Jack, the oldest of the four siblings. Through this role-play, the climax of the novel is reached where Julie and Jack reveal, to each other, the tension that has been lingering for years.

    Even when the parents are alive, McEwan makes note of the fact that the children are not very in touch with others around them and rarely have any visitors. For this reason, he introduces Julie's boyfriend to their lives in order to establish a contrast between their life and the "normal" life of the public around them. Derek, Julie's boyfriend, asks many questions and at the end, comes to the conclusion that Julie and Jack are sick for pursuing their incestuous relationship. Because Derek represents society, his disapproval is McEwan's way to express how disconnected the children are from what is "normal."

    Ian McEwan does an exceptional job in bringing out the sympathy in the reader for these children. The unfair loss of the children's innocence due to the death of their parents almost serves as an excuse for their actions. Even as Derek enters their lives as a conventional male figure, he is presented as an outsider because the reader is accustomed to the lifestyle of the four children. The novel expresses the unfair loss of innocence due to the firm rules of society. McEwan's style leaves the reader vulnerable to feelings of compassion towards the unconventional actions the children take.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 14, 2012

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    A decent (or descent depending on how you look at it) read but not for the faint-hearted

    Growing up, I was always told to be quiet if I have not anything nice to say. I've always disagreed with that notion, but still abided by it whilst under parental supervision. "Cement Garden" is just as much about being young and the accompanying growing pains, but with a thick dose of the macabre that the author, Ian, seems to have a firm hold on the balance. However, the incessant emphasis on incestuous themes is not just disturbing but in many ways unnecessary. I am only giving this one 2 stars because their are literally two stars in the book: Jack and Julie.

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  • Posted May 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:


    I think that Ian McEwen is an extremely talented author in many aspects. I think that his key to writing is the extensive use of detail that allows great imagery and simile as well as any other things. I believe that he is amazing when it comes to using his personal life and feelings in the book while allowing other ideas as well. When I first began to read his book, "The Cement Garden", I was pretty grossed out but even then I continued to read on. I felt as if I was obligated to keep reading but as I got further and further into the novel and learned more about the characters I enjoyed reading about their feelings and experiences. I think that when you read a book, especially one by Ian McEwen , you should never let your personal beliefs and opinions cloud your judgment and disable you from reading. I also think that just because something isn't to your liking doesn't mean that its wrong. I feel as if opposing something just because YOU don't think it's right is absolutely preposterous and something like this can be compared to racism and prejudice. Opposing to people who engage in incest is pretty much the same thing as opposing interracial marriage between lacks and whites. Think before you speak and actually keep in mind what the other party may feel and how their environment and beliefs differ from yours because everything comes into play at all times.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2009

    More than Interesting... Transcendent, Mind-Altering, and Truly Written

    **Don't worry! I don't spoil the ending!!** There is nothing better, in my opinion, than a book that transcends the mundane, and society's cliches and molds. This book took me to a blurry, dusty window-- one I had read about in many instances but never fully comprehended-- and wiped away the grit and grime. It revealed to me a matter and emotions that I now see occur relatively often in families, but perhaps not many have gotten to the extent that the book suggested. I am not easily "wow'd" by endings in a lot of books because, as readers, we are almost perfunctiorily obliged to recognize what will happen, how it will concluded, etc, etc. "The Cement Garden" is a "wow" book multiplied by ten. There are tidbits and clues hidden inside the words so as to tie the whole book together (quite well, I might add) but I just became so absorbed that I didn't connect the full meaning of it all till near the last pages. All in all, most recommended for mature and abstract-thinking people of any age (please,please,please do not buy -- or write a review on B&N-- if you are not ready to divulge into a 'taboo' subject). Also, unless requested, I would not buy this as a gift for any-ol'-person. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful book!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2005

    Intelligent Grit

    Excellently crafted and executed. It is the kind of book that travels with you; the plot starts heavy in the beginning but then tapers off into a more freestyle exploration of what the characters are like after their parents dissolving. This viewpoint though, is utterly skewed by the main character (who is the narrator). His subjective observance of events cause things that happen in the book to become obscured. This caused myself, the reader, to percieve the story differently while reading it. After the book was closed came the startling realization of the levity of the characters actions, (their actions, that the book obscurely hinted at). The subtle words spoken at the ends of the paragraphs hint that there is something much graver going on that the book is going to tell you; and there is. This novel is a modern classic I would recommend to anyone with a mind for literature. A quick read that sustains itself as more than just a story. After you finish, ask yourself 'What was Jack really doing?'.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2003


    This novel touches on everything that haunts society yet does it in a poetic and honest manner. I'd say read it, it will leave you with something to ponder!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2004

    Thought Provoking

    This novel was very compelling and thought provoking not to mention bizarre. A number of disturbing themes are explored, including incest. While I did enjoy the book, it was hard for me to be wildly enthusiastic. It did address mature themes head-on but for what purpose, I am not completely sure. I am certainly willing to read other McEwan books (this was my first) and would even consider re-reading this book to gain better insight into its purpose and deeper themes. Having said that, I am nonetheless more restrained in my praise than other reviewers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2003

    simply breathtaking

    This book left me breathtaken and with a new look on the world and the meaning of life. It gave me an impression of family importance i thought i'd never have, it's hard to explain why, but this book is by far the best book i have ever read. Find out for yourself, I'd say: read it and be ready for inspiration on life and life's treasures.

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    Posted April 1, 2010

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    Posted August 31, 2011

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