first line friday

“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. My sisters and I talked about him the week after he died, and Sue certainly cried when the ambulance men tucked him up in a bright-red blanket and carried him away. He was a frail, irascible, obsessive man with yellowish hands and face. I am only including the little story of his death to explain how my sisters and I came to have such a large quantity of cement at our disposal.”

Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden, 1978

Because who cares about a father dying when there’s a few bags of cement up for grabs?

I love how creepy McEwan’s earlier novels and short stories are. Pick up anything he wrote in the ‘70s or ‘80s and you’re guaranteed death, emotional trauma and kinky sex – usually of the incestuous variety. His later, more highly acclaimed novels are tame by comparison. And is it just me, or are too many of the Booker short-listed ones based on a tenuous premise that McEwan doesn’t always pull off?

cement garden2A man writes a rude word in a letter to his beloved, an action which changes his life forever.

Or: a man and a woman have bad sex on their wedding night, an action which ruins their relationship forever, etc.

I think my favourite McEwan novel is actually The Child In Time, possibly because the trauma he puts us through (there’s child abduction, madness, even politics!) is balanced by what could, at a stretch, be called a hopeful ending – in comparison to his usual endings anyway. It’s almost as if McEwan left the incomplete manuscript lying around somewhere and Enid Blyton decided to finish it off for him.

There’s also an intriguing paranormal element (perhaps Blyton popped that in as well?) and a terrific portrait of the British Prime Minister as a closet homosexual. All of this fun, however, cannot be predicted by it’s opening, which sounds more like the introductory paragraph of a submission to a Senate Committee Inquiry:

“Subsidising public transport had long been associated in the minds of both Government and the majority of its public with the denial of individual liberty.”     

Duller than a cement garden.

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