Cecily's book reviews

In general I've written reviews of every book I've read since I joined GoodReads (RIP) in May 08, along with one or two I read prior to that. More recent reviews tend to be longer (sometimes a tad too long?). I always carry a book, though I don't get as much time as I'd like to get engrossed - life is busy, but in a good way. Too many of my favourite authors died without writing enough! Apart from reading, and writing about reading, I enjoy Scrabble, good restaurants, woodland, and attending the theatre.
The Cement Garden - Ian McEwan McEwan's first novel, published when he was only 30. (It was preceded by an even more shocking collection of short stories, "First Love, Last Rights", https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/31647778.)

A profoundly disturbing, but very well written book. Had I realised the true nature of it, I doubt I would have read it, and somehow the fact it is told in such an unjudgemental way almost makes it worse.

"I did not kill my father, but I sometimes think I helped him on his way", is the opening sentence. It is set in a hot summer in late '70s England. Four children live a rather isolated life in a very insular and not entirely happy family. Their father dies, and not long after, so does their mother (this much is mentioned in the blurb), leaving them to fend for themselves and each other. Tom is 5 or 6, Sue 12, Jack (the narrator) turns 15 and Julie about 16 or 17.

Bereaved, fearful, lonely, unprepared, bored (school holidays), directionless, coupled with puberty and sibling squabbles. Each tries different coping strategies, none of which really work: shy Julie (previously with a reputation for "disruptive, intimidating quietness") takes charge, Sue reads and also writes a diary, Tom regresses (a cot delivers "an enveloping pleasure in being tenderly imprisoned"), and Jack... retreats and masturbates. But those behaviours are trivial in comparison to other actions.

They lose sense of time, self and not just right and wrong, but what the rest of the world would judge as right and wrong: "Nor could I think whether what we had done was an ordinary thing to do, understandable even if it had been a mistake, or something so strange that if it was ever found out it would be the headline of every newspaper in the country... every thought I had dissolved into nothing."

I found the story gripping and oddly credible, and yet I was appalled by it too - a little like Lolita.

Currently reading

The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy
Sebastian Peake, China MiƩville, Mervyn Peake
Gormenghast
Mervyn Peake