"I did not kill my father," this slim novel begins, "but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way." Soon the mother is dead as well, and four children are left to fend for themselves in a secluded house in a dying part of the city.
There's Julie, the eldest, a ripe & willful beauty who's almost a woman; there's Jack, the narrator, a boy bewildered by his growing body & appetites; there's Sue, bookish & ever-observant; and then there's Tom, the baby of the family, who actually seems to get younger, regressing as the days go by. These four form an uneasy family, slowly learning to be self-sufficient in this strangely apocalyptic setting.
But an intruder in the form of Julie's new boyfriend threatens their fragile stasis by asking too many questions. How long have the four of them been alone? And just what is buried under the crumbling pile of cement in the basement?
This book has been mistakenly marketed as a horror novel; it's horrific, sure, but not as horrible as the pulp that defines the genre. What makes it particularly good is its characters, the children who are both recognizably sympathetic and exotically extraordinary.
Ian McEwan has created a taut & provocative thriller written in pitch-perfect and stripped-down prose. Beyond being a macabre morality tale, The Cement Garden is a psychological-suspense yarn, a perceptive portrayal of adolescence that will keep you riveted up to the final, climactic scene in an upstairs bedroom.