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McEwan, Party of Four

Book #5 (January 30, 2010): The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

The Cement Garden is barely more than a novella, short, fast and readable. It’s an early novel by Ian McEwan, better known these days for writing relative epics like Atonement and Saturday. What is it about? Think of it as Party of Five with incest or Lord of the Flies without the island. A family of four children, living in Britain, finds itself orphaned when first one then another parent dies unexpectedly. They decide not to tell anyone about the second death — their mother — so that authorities won’t break up the family, and they bury her in a block of cement in the basement.

Beyond that, the story is sufficiently slight that I’m reluctant to say anything about it at all, since almost any detail could constitute a spoiler. Let’s just say that things go downhill, but not always in the ways you’d expect. Be warned that what happens is increasingly sexual and if you’re offended by that kind of thing, you’d probably be better off leaving this one on the shelf at Borders. I had no problems with it and enjoyed the novel’s twisted logic. McEwan’s writing is crisp and efficient, with a mordant British wit. The characters are well drawn and the tensions between the family members feels real. The ending, while not entirely a surprise, is unexpectedly sudden, and you’d be forgiven if you wound  up feeling like you’d only read the opening chapters of a novel rather than the whole thing. In that spirit, I’m keeping this blog entry short. On to the next book.

About Christopher Lampton

Chris Lampton, a cofounder of the e-book design firm Illuminated Pages (see link in my Blogroll), is a writer, an editor, an occasional computer programmer, a voracious reader, and a fanatic video game player. In the course of his distinguished if haphazard career he has written more than 90 books, including the 1993 computer book bestseller Flights of Fantasy (Waite Group Press). He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend Amy and our cat Lola, and now spends much of his available time editing and rewriting novels for self-published authors.

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