The Cement Garden

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The Cement Garden
First edition cover
AuthorIan McEwan
Cover artistRon Bowen[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherJonathan Cape
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover)

The Cement Garden is a 1978 novel by Ian McEwan. It was adapted into a 1993 film of the same name by Andrew Birkin, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Andrew Robertson.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

In The Cement Garden, the father of four children dies. Soon after, the children's mother dies as well. In order to avoid being taken into foster care, the children hide their mother's death from the outside world by encasing her corpse in cement in the cellar. The children then attempt to live on their own.

The narrator is Jack (14 at the start of the book, becoming 15 later), and his siblings are Julie (17), Sue (13), and Tom (6). Jack describes how, when they were younger, he and Julie would play doctor with their younger sister, although he is aware that their version of the game occasionally broke boundaries. Jack then mentions how he longs to do the same to his older sister but it is not allowed. Sexual tension between Jack and Julie becomes increasingly obvious as they take over the roles of "mother" and "father" in the house, which is gradually deteriorating into squalor.

When Julie begins to date a young man called Derek, aged 23, and invites him to their house, Jack feels jealous and shows hostility towards him. Derek gets a hint that something is hidden in their cellar, and becomes more and more interested while the children attempt to hide it from him. When a smell begins to emanate from the cellar, the children tell him their dead dog, Cosmo, is encased in the cement. Derek then helps to re-seal the cement casing their mother is hidden in. Eventually, Tom tells Jack that Derek has told him he believes their mother is in the cellar.

The story comes to a climax when Jack enters, apparently absent-mindedly, naked into Julie's bedroom. Julie is not there; only Tom is present. Jack climbs into Tom's cot and begins to talk to him about their parents. Julie enters and, seemingly unsurprised by Jack's nakedness, jokes that 'it is big'. Jack and Julie sit on the bed while Tom sleeps, and Julie takes off her clothes. While talking, Jack and Julie become more and more intimate with each other. Right at this point, Derek enters. He remarks that he has seen it all and calls them "sick". When he leaves, Jack and Julie begin to have sex. A thudding noise can be heard below, and their sister Sue comes and informs them that Derek is smashing up the concrete coffin. The three begin to talk, remembering their mother. After a while, police lights illuminate the room through the bedroom window.

In popular culture[edit]

A quote from the book can be heard in the opening of Madonna's song "What It Feels Like for a Girl".

The Cement Garden was adapted into a film of the same name by Andrew Birkin in 1993, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Andrew Robertson.[2] In March 2008, it was adapted for the first time for the stage by FallOut Theatre in Cambridge. A developed version of this adaption opened in London at The Vaults, Waterloo, starring George MacKay and Ruby Bentall in January 2014.


The Cement Garden was included in the book Horror: Another 100 Best Books (2005) by Stephen Jones.


External links[edit]