When I was in sixth form at school, I took English Literature. I always loved a good book and a good discussion about it afterwards, so it seemed like an ideal A Level for me. My teacher however, was the only difficulty.
He loved to inflict deep, psychological books onto us- the kind where small children turn crazy and kill their neighbours and normal men have affairs with their mother. So it’s not surprising that we found ourselves falling into a slight mental disintegration ourselves.
But something from his depressing reading list must have stuck with me, because now I find myself still being drawn to those psychological, soul-draining books. So I guess that’s what appealed to me when I read the blurb on Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden the book that definitely pushed me to the edge of insanity this summer.
The story follows the lives of four siblings after the death of their father and the following death of their mother a year later. Told from the perspective of the adolescent male of the house, Jack, the gloomy cloud that has become their lives sees him totally emasculated by his sisters- one of whom he has an obsessive sexual fascination for. And with their mother’s body encased in cement in the basement acting as a constant reminder of their troubles, the whole story seems pressed by an impending doom.
So yes, definitely no light hearted beach read.
And I’ll never forget where I was when I finished the book - out in the back garden of a lovely holiday home by the coast, soaking up the end of the summer rays- a beautifully relaxed place to read.
But when the ending of the book saw the cement around their mother crack, and a bit of incestuous action unfold between Jack and his sister, you can imagine I was far from relaxed. More like speechless; and utterly disturbed.
So, as I look out of the literal abyss The Cement Garden plummeted me into, I’m holding that English teacher responsible for the total hopeless void that has become my reading preference, and the general mental disintegration I’m bound to fall into as a result.