When I picked up The Cement Garden by Ian McEwen I drew immediate connection to Lord of the Flies. In this compact novel, a family of four children loses both their father and their mother, becoming orphans with the unquestioned desire to remain together, aloof and alone.
Sixteen year old Julie becomes the surrogate mother to her siblings, and they navigate through their darkly cloaked world with the twisted yet natural tendencies of human beings. Graphic and often disturbing McEwan spares his readers nothing. The sexual tendencies of young children, often ignored for our own stubborn belief in the non-sexual child, are painted with definite strokes. The protagonist, Jack, is portrayed as a troubled adult male with a tendency towards masturbation and sexual attraction to his sisters. Are there scenes of sexual abuse and incest? Certainly, and yet the reader is led to read them as natural and even innocent explorations.
The novel was published in 1978, the first of many for widely hailed Ian McEwan. This novel established his ability to capture the atmospheres of certain moments in the cycle of life. In this novel, McEwan distills childhood: both the enviable innocence of being young and the intense desire to become an adult, a word that bears many true and false associations to a young child’s mind.
The book is shocking and filled with morbid scenes, and yet I couldn't stop turning the page. The prose is simple, child-like, but inflected with the metaphors and imagery of a master of the English language. For one who has written a myriad of highly-acclaimed novels, Ian McEwan displays his brilliance from the very beginning of his work.