The Cement Garden Study Guide

The Cement Garden

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

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 crib 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.

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