The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan – A Book Review

This is probably one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read.  I don’t mean disturbing as in thought provoking and edgy, I mean disturbing as in tasteless and barbaric.  I found nothing redeeming about this novel whatsoever.  McEwan may be a fine writer, but his choice of subject matter and plot, in my eyes, leaves much to be desired.

In The Cement Garden, four children, a boy and two girls in their early and mid-teens, as well as one very young boy, lose their father and then, not much later, their mother as well.  Faced with the prospect of what to do with their mother’s body, they make a very unusual decision and find themselves without any supervision at all.  The novel describes in detail the slow descent these children experience as they do not employ any self-discipline or civility.

Our narrator, a young boy in his mid-teens, is truly one of the most despicable narrators I’ve ever come across.  He is not evil, but he is the portrait of apathy.  He refuses to keep himself clean, he is sexually perverse, he is mean-spirited, and he is lazy beyond words.  I’m afraid the rest of the characters are not far behind him in likeability.

If McEwan wanted to present a story with completely unpleasant characters committing one odious act after another, well then, he succeeded unfalteringly.  I did not enjoy this very brief novel in any way, shape, or form.

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan – A Book Review

Long ago I read a book by this author called The Cement Garden.  While he was more than talented with mechanics and style, I found his content perverse and distasteful.

However, he is widely respected and so I thought it beneficial to give him another chance.  I chose Amsterdam as my opportunity to get reacquainted with McEwan, mostly because it’s a very short read and I didn’t want to invest too much time with it.

Well, I was very pleased to see that The Cement Garden must have simply been the author pushing the limit and not necessarily his norm.  I enjoyed Amsterdam, though I don’t think I would recommend it to the casual reader.  The story, while not terribly captivating, was an interesting character study and, again, McEwan is very proficient with the written word.  His style and structures are a joy to study.

Atonement – A Movie Review

I’ve read a few of Ian McEwan’s books, and while I’ve always found them stylistically impressive, I’ve never been too enthralled with the actual stories.  Because of this, I wasn’t in a huge rush to watch Atonement, a movie based upon one of his novels.

In all honesty, I brought this movie home only as a courtesy to my wife who’d been sitting through an inordinate amount of “guy movies” of late.  Strapping myself in for a painful experience, I was humbly surprised when I found myself completely enamored with Atonement.

The story takes place just before the days of World War II, and is about a young girl in her early teens who falsely (and somewhat innocently) accuses a long-time family friend and secret lover to her sister of rape.  From that moment on, the lives of all three become forever changed for the worse.

The stunning angles and cinematography made this film gorgeous.  Each shot truly appeared as a work of art.  The story itself isn’t terribly innovative, but the editing of the film presented the story from multiple perspectives-using flashbacks brilliantly-in such a manner that the audience had to actively think as they watched the film, connecting dots and building bridges.  Because of this artistry, the story became far more complex and captivating than it would have been if presented linearly.  They don’t make movies quite like this anymore, movies that actually seem to take pride in presenting itself as an artistic endeavor.  I believe film students would have much to learn from Atonement.

Saoirse Ronan, the actress who played the little girl, was utterly convincing and authentically unsettling.  James McAvoy, who played the falsely accused, was likable without being overly dramatic.  Even Keira Knightly, who normally annoys me to no end (along with Orlando Bloom), acted her socks off and really seemed invested in her character.  In other words, all the main actors did a magnificent job with their characters.

Finally, I loved the ending to Atonement.  I won’t spoil it for you, but some movies are meant to leave you with a sense of satisfaction, even if not entirely realistic, and some are not.  Some present life as it really happens, and, as we all know, many times things don’t work out as we hoped.

I honestly recommend Atonement for anyone who appreciates inspired filmmaking.