Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ian McEwan - The Cement Garden

Recently I read another book of Ian McEwan's; The Cement Garden. It has one of those openings that makes me tear the book out of its shelf and read on, hoping to see the first sentences' microcosm confirmed and developed throughout the story.

The opening, simple as it is:
"I did not kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way. And but for the fact that it coincided with a landmark in my own physical growth, his death seemed insignificant compared with what followed."
Those words were enough for me to pursue the rest of the sentences, tying together a whole which is a lot more than its parts. In literature this gestalt-like idea of a whole being more than its parts (namely, words and sentences) is quite obvious. A novel, a poem, and a play and so on, needs a human to decode, put together and create the piece anew. Or maybe not completely anew, but to see the 3D image beyond the words, the natural thing for any reader to do. The mystery of the reading process -- or part of it, at least. And then every one of us creates a slightly different world out of the same words on the pages, giving several thousand different stories and milieus out of the one. Depending on the number of the readers, of course.  

What signifies McEwan's style? Economy, rhythm, precision and a faint unnerviness, like there's something about to go wrong, which also happens in many of his books. And from this; a poetry of prose, so to speak. This novel is no exception, as the intro hints at in its effective way. Despite, and at the same time because of, this feeling of looming doom, I dashed through the pages, but giving myself enough time to notice the wry, crisp, seemingly innocent style the story is delivered in. The contrast between the content and the way it is told is quite titillating, and I found myself reading through passages quite sinister without the more expected reaction of horror or even condemnation but with a sense of observing something rather everyday and normal. That level of persuasiveness from a narrator is simply impossible not to enjoy.

Even so, there is a build-up of an underlying horror throughout the story that has to be released somehow. If the story hadn't made this happen (in a way), it probably would have seeped out into my own personal sphere of life in some fashion. Either through a certain kind of tension, or a feeling of unease, or a sort of creative space where the contradictions piled up to some kind of release in one medium or other. Which I guess it did, anyway, as I felt I had to write about the book here, and discuss it with others.

Also the language itself, simple but convincing, prosaic yet poetic, lit up its own area in my field of consciousness -- not only the part of language love or aesthetic pleasure, but some deep receptive place underlying aesthetic praise. Which is where most aesthetic experiences come from, anyway. But maybe you get what I mean.

Looking for images for the book's cover to put on this blog I realized there's actually been made a film out of this book, in 1993. It also seems to be his first novel after a couple of short story collections. That this is a debut novel would make my jaw drop with awe, had I not found this expression too silly. But figuratively, jaw down.