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Keating, S. (2003). Loss, Illusional Systems of Defence and Possible Reparation in Two Works by Ian McEwan. Free Associations, 10(3):283-330.

(2003). Free Associations, 10(3):283-330


Loss, Illusional Systems of Defence and Possible Reparation in Two Works by Ian McEwan1

Sharon Keating


The Following Work Involves a close reading of two novels by Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden and Atonement. In it, I seek to trace the development of thinking in the texts with regard to destructive urges, moving to possible reparation, in the light of the Oedipus complex, narcissistic personality organizations, and the significance of mourning. This involves a detailed examination of the mental states ascribed to fictional characters, with particular reference to the disavowal of reality as a response to the immutable nature of some truths which are felt to be unendurable.

I suggest that The Cement Garden can be read as concerning itself primarily with mental states that correspond to what John Steiner has called ‘psychic retreats’; that is mental refuges from reality, where phantasy and omnipotence reign supreme, untrammelled by the exegeses of reality and therefore where anything is permitted.

This novel can be seen to describe the gargantuan psychic efforts made by four orphaned children to deny the awful, traumatic truth of their shared circumstance. This has serious implications for their ability to mourn and achieve a concerned connection with and for each other.


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