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Submitted Literature

The Cement Garden

By Ian McEwan


Ian McEwan’s early novel “The Cement Garden” explores the psychological breakdown of a family following the death of their father and their mother’s subsequent death.  In order to avoid being separated by the social care system, the children tell no one of their mother’s death, instead interring her in concrete in the cellar.  This thick, tight, cloying narrative makes for compulsive yet uncomfortable reading, as their collective mental deterioration leads to a shocking ending.  “Enduring Love” is one of McEwan’s best known novels, examining the phenomenon of De Clérambaults Syndrome. 

Key Themes:

  • Bereavement
  • Childhood / Adolescence
  • Isolation
  • Psychosis
  • Revealing Reads

Significant Quotes / Pages

21 - “At some point during the same period my spots were so thoroughly established across my face that I abandoned all the rituals of personal hygiene.  I no longer wash my face or hair or cut my nails or took baths.  I gave up brushing my teeth.  In her quiet way my mother reproved me continuously, but I now felt proudly beyond her control.  If people really likes me, I argued, they would take me as I was. […]

I frequently stared at myself in mirrors, sometimes for as long as an hour.  One morning, shortly before my fifteenth birthday, I was searching in the gloom of huge hallway for my shoes when I glimpsed myself in a full-length mirror which leaned against the wall.  My father had always intended to secure it.  Coloured light through the stained glass above the front door illuminated from behind stray fibres of my hair.  The yellowish semi-darkness obscured the humps and pits of my complexion.  I felt noble and unique.  I stared at my own image till it began to dissociate itself and paralyse me with its look.”

95 – “More frequently my bad dreams became nightmares.  There was a huge wooden box in the hallway which I must have passed a dozen times before without giving it a second thought.  Now I stopped to look.  The lid that used to be nailed on tight was hanging loose, some of the nails were bent back and the wood around them was splintered and white.  I was standing as near to the box as I could without being able to see inside.  I knew I was in a dream and that it was important not to panic.”


138 – Closing pages demonstrate the extent to which their minds have deteriorated.  Blue lights flashing outside - have finally been found out.  “Then we seemed to wake up and began to talk in whispers about mum. […] it was the sound of two or three cars pulling up outside, the slum of doors and hurried footsteps of several people coming up front path that woke Tom.  Through a chink in the curtain a revolving blue light made a spinning pattern on the wall.  Tom sat up and stared at it, blinking.  We crowded round the cot and Julie bent down and kissed him.

‘There!’ she said, ‘wasn’t that a lovely sleep.’”


Reference: Ian, McEwan. 1978. The Cement Garden. London: Vintage, 1997


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 20th March 2009