Ian McEwan

First Love, Last Rites was McEwan's first published book and is a collection of short stories that in 1976 won the Somerset Maugham Award. A second volume of his work appeared in 1978. These stories--claustrophobic tales of childhood, deviant sexuality and disjointed family life--were remarkable for their formal experimentation and controlled narrative voice. McEwan's first novel, The Cement Garden (1978), is the story of four orphaned children living alone after the death of both parents. To avoid being taken into custody, they bury their mother in the cement of the basement and attempt to carry on life as normally as possible. Soon, an incestuous relationship develops between the two oldest children as they seek to emulate their parents roles. The Cement Garden was followed by The Comfort of Strangers (1981), set in Venice, a tale of fantasy, violence, and obsession. The Child in Time (1987) won the Whitbread Novel Award and marked a new confidence in McEwan's writing. The story revolves around the devastating effects of the loss of a child through child abduction. Readers may know McEwan's work through these and other books, or more recently through his novel, Atonement, which was made into a major motion picture.

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The Cement Garden

Ian McEwan is known to skirt the edge with his writing; the fringes of society, to test the limits of what we can handle perhaps in our worlds as we bring his writing home with us and allow a whole new being to enter. So it is with The Cement Garden, the story of dying family who live in a dying part of the city. The father of four children decides, in an effort to make his garden easier to control, to pave it over. In the process, he has a heart attack and dies, leaving the cement garden unfinished and the children to the care of their mother. Soon after, the mother too dies and the children, fearful of being separated by social services, decide to cover up their parents’ deaths: they bury their mother in the cement garden.

ll of the children are free thinking independent-minded teenagers. The story is told from the point of view of Jack, one of the sons, the narrator who is entering adolescence with all of its curiosity and appetites that he must contend with (along with the sure confusion of what the children have done). Julie, the eldest, is almost a grown woman. Sue is rather bookish and observes all that goes on around her. And Tom is the youngest and the baby of the lot.

The children seem to manage in this perverse setting rather well until Julie brings home a boyfriend who threatens their secret by asking too many questions (like what is buried beneath the cement pile, etc), surely threatening the status quo (however morbid) that the children have come to accept as "normal" and as "home". We understand through McEwan that home is not to be defined by anyone else but it is, instead, what you know and have known that makes you feel safe, even if it is rather dangerous and macabre.

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The Child in Time

Now a PBS Masterpiece movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Child in Time shows us just how quickly life can change in an instant. Stephen Lewis is a successful author of children’s books. It is a routine Saturday morning and while on a trip to the supermarket, Stephen gets distracted. Within moments, his daughter is kidnapped and his life is forever changed.

From that moment, Lewis spirals into bereavement that has effects on his relationship with his wife, his psyche, and with time itself: "It was a wonder there could be so much movement, so much purpose, all the time. He himself had none."

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In Between the Sheets

Whether these are the written transcripts of dreams or deadly accurate maps of the tremor zones of our psyche, all seven stories in this collection implicate us in the most fearful ways imaginable. In one, a two-timing pornographer becomes the unwilling object in the fantasies of one of his victims. In another, a jaded millionaire buys himself the perfect mistress and plunges into a hell of jealousy and despair. In another, over the course of a weekend, a guilt-ridden father with his teenage daughter discovers the depths of his own blundering innocence.

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Books By
Ian McEwan