Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Cement Garden (Ian McEwan)

Reading The Cement Garden was like running a marathon. All I wanted was to reach the finish line. Somehow quitting halfway was not an option.

The story is about four siblings named Julie (seventeen), Jack (fifteen), Sue (thirteen) and Tom (six) who had to stand on their own two feet after the death of their father, followed by the death of their mother. And it is narrated from Jack's point of view.

The father was not exactly pleasant and loving when he was alive. For example, he made jokes that could hurt the kids' self-esteem and he lost his temper easily. Following his death, the story highlighted intensively the role of the mother who tried to keep the family functioning. However, the dynamic among the siblings had changed - they grew distant. Later, the mother became sick and bedridden. The kids adapted well enough though. They divided and carried out the household chores. When the mother had passed away, they decided to wrap her up in the sheet, put her in the garden and covered with cement (which was previously purchased by the father for the garden). Concealing the mother's death was to avoid them from being separated and taken away by foster care. At last, it was discovered by Derek, Julie's boyfriend who later reported it to police
" I caught my mother by the shoulder, half closed my eyes and pushed her off the table back on to the bed. I avoided her face. She seemed to resist me and it took both hands to make her move. Now she lay on her side, her arms at odd angles, her body twisted and fixed in the position she had been lying in since the day before yesterday. Julie took her feet and I held her behind her shoulders. When we set her down on the sheet, she looked so frail and sad in her nightdress, lying at our feet like a bird with a broken wing, that for the first time I cried for her and not for myself. Behind her she left on the bed a large brown stain whose outer edges faded to yellow. Julie's face was wet too when we knelt down by Mother and tried to roll her over in the sheet. It was difficult, her body was too twisted to turn. "
" We worked like maniacs. Soon only a few patches of the sheet were visible, and then they too were gone. Still, we kept on. The only sounds were the scrape of the shovel and our heavy breathing. When we finished, there was nothing left of the pile but a damp path on the floor, the cement in the trunk was almost overflowing. Before we went upstairs, we stood about looking at what we had done, and catching our breath. We decided to leave the lid of the trunk up so that the cement would harden quicker. "
This is perhaps the most disturbing and dark story I have read. It talks about the awkward physical growth phrase everyone once went through - how self-conscious Jack was about the change of his body and mind; masturbation; the dreadful "talk" with his mother. It talks about child bullying experienced by Tom. With the encouragement of Sue and Julie, Tom even took up cross-dressing. Eventually, Tom fell back into a baby's state of mind, resorted to drinking from a bottle and crying for attention. Not to mention, the incestuous relationship among Julie, Sue and Jack.    
" What was wrong with me? I tired to frighten myself with the reflection of my eyes, but I felt only impatience and mild revulsion. I stood in the center of my room listening to the very distant, constant sound of traffic. Then I listened to the voices of children playing in the street. The two sounds merged and seemed to press down on the top of my head. I lay on my bed again and this time I closed my eyes. When a fly walked pass my face, I was determined not to move. I could not bear to remain on my bed, yet any activity I thought of disgusted me in advance. "
P/S: I read The Cement Garden somewhere in May or June. I reviewed it before I wrote this post. Again, I developed the exact same thought, which was "let's get it over with". Despite how disturbing the story was, it was actually overflowed with emotions like affection, guilt, jealousy, hostility, grief etc which touched me to a certain extent.

1 comment:

  1. oooo.. not sure about this one. Ian McEwan is dark and I'm wondering if you should be reading it?! lol