In Ian McEwan's debut novel, "Lord of the Flies" meets "Catcher in the Rye" meets "Flowers in the Attic." "I did not kill my father," begins "The Cement Garden," "but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way." Soon the narrator's mother dies as well, leaving four children to fend for themselves in a secluded, ramshackle house.
The quartet form an uneasy family who slowly learn self-sufficiency in an apocalyptic setting: Julie, the eldest, a willful beauty; Jack, the narrator, bewildered by his growing body and appetites; Sue, bookish and ever-observant; and Tom, the baby of the family, who regresses as the days pass. But an imposter, Julie's new boyfriend, threatens their fragile stasis by asking too many questions. How long have the four of them been alone? And just what is buried under the crumbling pile of cement in the basement?
These characters seem both recognizably sympathetic and exotically extraordinary. Ian McEwan succeeds in creating a taut and provocative thriller written in pitch-perfect and stripped-down prose. Beyond a macabre morality tale, "The Cement Garden" reads like a psychological-suspense tale, a perceptive portrayal of adolescence that will keep the reader riveted up until the final, climactic scene in an upstairs bedroom.