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The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan (Vintage £9.99, 160 pp)

The Cement Garden

by Ian McEwan (Vintage £9.99, 160 pp)

McEwan’s darkly disturbing first novel is narrated by morose teenager, Jack, the second eldest of four siblings, whose father suddenly dies while concreting over the unruly garden.

When their mother also dies, the children bury her under concrete in the cellar so that they won’t be taken into care. Jack develops an unhealthy obsession with his older sister who has a dubious boyfriend.

Their domestic situation becomes more feral, incestuous and twisted as McEwan asks questions about morality, sex and death — themes he develops in his later work.

A Wreath for the Enemy

A Wreath for the Enemy by Pamela Frankau (Daunt Books £9.99, 312 pp)

by Pamela Frankau (Daunt Books £9.99, 312 pp)

This episodic coming-of-age novel is narrated by different people who meet during a summer in France. Precocious Penelope, 14, lives with her bohemian poet father and French stepmother in their Riviera hotel, a magnet for the wealthy.

She falls in love with the ordered lives of Don and Eva, children of conventional, middle-class parents holidaying next door — and the siblings thrill to her chaos, until a death exposes their differences.

As the years pass, Penelope and Don question their backgrounds, beliefs and aspirations against a backdrop of influential characters. The voice of lonely Penelope will stay with you.

Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Vintage Classics £9.99, 310 pp)

by Gustave Flaubert (Vintage Classics £9.99, 310 pp)

First published in 1856, this powerful novel feels incredibly modern, as young, bored, frustrated Emma Bovary finds that marriage to a good, if dull, man and motherhood suffocate her dreams of romance. She embarks on two affairs, running up enormous debts, before her life — and consequently her husband’s — spirals into tragedy.

Prosecuted for insulting public morals when it was first serialised in a magazine, Flaubert won the court case and his pioneering, naturalistic prose, and the exceptional portrait of the internal emotional life of his tortured, flawed heroine marked this out as a work of brilliance.

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