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.