on January 19, 2003
This is the first of McEwan's mature novels, and easily one of his best. He goes well beyond the psycho-sexual darkness of his short stories and novellas into new philosophical territory. When it opens with the daughter of children's author Stephen Lewis being snatched from the local supermarket, you could be forgiven for thinking this novel is going to be about Stephen's obsessive, fruitless search for her and his inevitable psychological collapse. But Kate's disappearance is just the beginning. McEwan sidesteps the perils of family melodrama and rapidly escalates this into an intelligent and surprisingly moving novel about childhood, memory, growth, the horrors of conservative politics, and the joys of theoretical physics. McEwan's topic is time, and in addressing it from unexpected and seemingly disparate directions he demonstrates that a novel doesn't have to be an obvious, linear, plot-driven story. By the end, you realise you have in fact been told a wonderful story - one about Stephen's emotional adaptation - but that the novel is all the better because this has not been the explicit or only focus. In fact, all the pieces of this dazzlingly audacious philosophical puzzle slot perfectly into place in a final chapter which is as wonderfully unexpected as it is profoundly moving. McEwan's gift is for making the "big themes" real for us; for showing us how they're constantly moving, like continental plates, beneath the mundanity of our every day lives. He takes you places you don't expect to go. He assumes you're as intelligent as he is, and he gives you plenty to think about and plenty to do. When it works, as it does here, it's wonderful.
On a most ordinary day Stephen walks with his three-year-old daughter Kate to a supermarket. At the checkout lane there is no no other customer behind him. As he checks out, he turns briefly from his daughter, looks around and she is gone. What has to be one of the worst nightmares that any parent can possibly conceive of happens to Stephen and his wife Julie: their beautiful daughter has been kidnapped. With that calamity, Ian McEwan begins another fine novel.
The trademarks we have come to expect from McEwan are here: something horrendous happens to people through no fault of their own, and their lives are irrevocably and forever changed. In McEwan's own words, a "malevolent intervention" occurs. McEwan asks hard questions about the very nature of existence and relationships and life. He makes profound philosophical observations; and as usual, even though his prose is dense, the reader races through his story.
McEwan delves into the meaning of childhood-- children always live in the present-- memory-- you remember what you remember; you forget what suits you-- the relativity of time: time is dependent on the speed of the observer; time slows down during a panic.As always, McEwan's language is both precise and concise. And I believe he coins a couple of verbs too: "first-naming" and Brylcreemed."
Without giving away the ending of this incredible novel, I can say that this is the most positive McEwan I've read, and I've read my way through most of his works. Usually the action takes place someplace beyond despair. Here we have the joy of starting over. As Emily Dickinson would say, "love is all we know of love. A beautiful ending to a beautiful novel.
Mr. McEwan is one terrific writer.
on March 16, 2001
Ian McEwan never disappoints. I've read "Enduring Love" and "The Comfort of Strangers" and they're both excellent. In his 1987 Whitbread Prize winning novel "The Child In Time", McEwan tunnels deep into the subconscious to deliver an outstanding study of interiors that positively glows and radiates with poignance and compassion. There is the inevitable social commentary on power, hypocrisy and corruption but none of the anger and vitriolic you might expect. Using the subject of a child gone missing in a supermarket as its starting point, the novel snakes its way around with dramatic twists and turns nobody could have anticipated - a typically McEwan trait - that continually shatters the reader's evolving preconception of what the novel is all about. One moment you're astral travelling with Stephen as he struggles manfully with his private grief while sitting absentmindedly in parliamentary subcommittee meetings on children's education, the next you're in a nasty car accident and a stroll down memory lane that proves to be pivotal in drawing all the loose ends together. The confession Stephen's mother makes to him will strike you like a lightning rod. It comes full circle, suggesting the power of the subconscious in shaping the reality we perceive as fixed or unchanging when it hangs on a thread. McEwan's command of his craft is none more evident than in suddenly letting Stephen's almost indifferent friendship with Charles take centrestage in the last third of the novel, with devastating effect but for a purpose, not as a gimmick but because it's highly explanatory. Though McEwan suppresses his natural taste for the macabre in TCIT, there's still a liberal dose of the uncanny left in these pages to savour and enthrall us and give the novel the distinctive McEwan touch. This time though, he has in store for us an ending that's beautifully rounded, emotionally congruent, and morally uplifting. What more can a reader ask for ? TCIT is a wonderful novel, richly deserving of the critical accolades heaped on it. Go get a copy and read it. You won't be disappointed.
on July 12, 1999
When Kate, daughter of Stephen and Julie is taken from a supermarket(don`t worry, I haven`t spoiled anything!)there is no way for Stephen`s life to go but down.The book centres on his struggle to find his daughter,meeting people from his time and even travelling to the past to discover aspects of his parent`s lives. The time element in this book is uncomfortable to the reader, yet McEwan`s writing takes you fluidly through the plot,with the difficult subject of time beautifully interwoven. I really enjoyed reading this novel and studying it for English Literature A-Level as it is written so provocatively that one cannot fail to relish the piece. The characters are fully rounded and fit into the plot with the greatest of ease. The plot itself is extremely well thought out and expertly written by a great English writer. McEwan is able to draw upon the innocence which the plot desires, Whilst also creating a clillingly spooky atmosphere. This book is no easy read, it`s wonderfully moving ending is reached only after a disturbingly beautiful and sometimes horrific plot. This has to be counted amongst McEwan`s greatest works,and all in all, "The Child In Time" is a wonderfully written journey through the darkest elements of time, which leaves the reader with the radiating glow of hope.
on August 25, 2003
'The Child in Time' has many of the hallmarks of a McEwan novel. It is extremely well written, splendid characterizations, and it is a slow-paced read. Full kudos on his use of written English but as with his other works, even the terrific 'Atonement', he seems to stretch what should be a relatively short piece of fiction into twice or three times its appropriate length.
However 'The Child in Time' is certainly an interesting read. A young couple losses a daughter in a most traumatic way ... abduction. We then live through its aftermath from the father's viewpoint (..the father character narrates the story). The author is extremely sensitive and caring in the way he handles the the father's shock and ultimate recovery (..in a sense) of the situation. A very well-observed analysis.
Bottom line: at times McEwan's over-elegant prose almost buries the keen psychological analysis of parental suffering. Yet it's a most memorable read (even to single guys like me).
on May 4, 2008
The two key themes of A Child in Time are contained in the title, which is a kind of a pun on the baby that arrives in time to save the marriage. There is the stolen child lost in time, Kate; Steven tries to keep her in time, to give her imaginary growth, but fails. Julie has to learn to allow her to be lost to a past time yet still loved in present time. There is the child out of time - Steven's revisiting his own former self in some supernatural experience. There is the fictional child of his novels, children forever children in the constructed world that fiction allows. And there is the adult who wants to return to the naivety and lack of responsibility of childhood, and actually attempts a real regression to that level. His attempt is catastrophic. The character Charles raises the issue of time quite early in the novel, when he comments that to children, there is no time; their world is somehow played out with little awareness of the passing of time or of a real future. The comment: "In every child there is a hidden adult and in every adult there is a hidden child", plays with changes in time's forward arrow. Charles's desire to return to the innocence and insouciance of childhood, we are told by Thelma, is a widespread problem amongst adults; it is accentuated as pathology in Charles.
The novel, as most of McEwan's novels, travels to and fro in time with back flashes interspersing the narrative of the present, and a future never out of sight. Although the novel returns in time, and although Steven's memory does also, McEwan constantly reminds us that our present is the result of past decisions, past important moments of choice that cannot be retrieved or extirpated. Time travels on, and the missing Kate has to find her own place in that arrow of time in a way that will allow the parents to move on without her, yet with loving memories of her.
Within this thematic, there are some lovely moments: I think it the only work of McEwan that has brought me to actual tears. But the tears are momentary. It has none of the poignancy of On Chesil Beach, or the enduring sense of loss or tragedy - but then, it is not a tragedy, so that is hardly surprising. The style is recognisably and wonderfully McEwan even while it lacks the more refined and subtle skills he has at his disposal today (the original copyright is 1987). Part of his lack of skill is in his methodology - his actual story telling. He is not able, as he is now, to get as expertly inside his characters and quarry their psychological depths.
For me, his greatest failure centred on the actual stealing of Kate. I find it barely credible. I also find the failure to follow the psyches or the conversations of the couple at this time to be frustrating. He can't quite deal with the magnitude of his own plot at this point, and steps too far back from both action and characters for me. There are unexplained gaps in plot, jumps in logic, presumptions and omissions that stretch the reader's belief.
I would not recommend it to anyone as their first McEwan, and I would certainly not recommend it to anyone as a marvel in its own right. Neither would I criticise it as a failed attempt. I would love to see what the more mature McEwan could do today with the same theme, but even the less experienced version indicates enormous promise, and is a pleasure to read. The disappointment occurs because we now know he can do better.
on May 11, 2000
Thank you, Alan.
The one thing I'm grateful to my ex-boyfriend for is that he introduced me to Ian McEwan (via "Black Dogs" -- also highly recommended). "The Child in Time" is beautifully-written, gripping, heartbreaking, and incredibly human. This is one of the most emotionally-involving books I've read, casting a breathtaking light on the experience of experience.
This is the eighth book of McEwan's that I have read, and it was not among my favorites. This was probably McEwan's most introspective novel so far, but I found myself getting bored with Stephen's thoughts. I enjoyed the plotline involving the disappearance of his daughter and how that tragedy affected his relationship with his wife. I liked his reflection on how he became a children's writer, but I thought the whole relationship with his publisher Charles and his wife a bit strange. Charles' wife's ramblings about Time were uninteresting, as was Stephen's work with the committee. I typically fly through McEwan, but certain parts of this one just had me stuck.
While the title has many levels aside from Stephen's missing daughter, there were layers that I thought seemed irrelevant. If you prefer the more introspective McEwan novels, like Saturday, then you'd enjoy The Child in Time. This did not have the shock value of The Cement Garden or The Comfort of Strangers, or the epic novelty that made Atonement a huge success, but it's still McEwan through and through.
on August 12, 2013
Let me start by stating that this is the first McEwan novel I have read. He is a legend among contemporary writers, I've been told (his name comes up in many conversations I have with friends), so I decided to start with this one on the recommendation of one of these friends.
That being said, I admit to being underwhelmed by this, one of his earlier novels. This is a story of gut-wrenching moments involving Stephen, the central character (his daughter being kidnapped, his near-death car-crash experience, his trusted friend's regression to a child-like state, his wife's interactions with him, post-daughter's kidnapping); however, as great as these individual moments are, I'm just not so sure that all these moments come together into a story that melds in a credible way. There are issues here with pacing (whole chapters seem to melt by without my reading anything of note) and sequencing (it's not always evident when an event is happening before or after the kidnapping).
On the plus side, McEwan captures the grief of a father attempting to move on in his life carrying all the baggage of his past with him, and Stephen is a respectable, honorable man for being able to do so. I truly rooted for this man to have some closure to the painful event, and the story does give him some closure, albeit in a way I find a little TOO convenient, and, dare I say, too easily. I will not give away the ending here, I promise.
In spite of the disappointment I felt about this effort, I am encouraged by this novel to move on to one of his more more recent and canonical works to see his evolution from this book. Maybe reading more of his efforts will help me to understand his style as well. It's always fun discovering new writers!
on September 11, 2009
Child of Time is a very good read by two top science fiction authors. First published as a short story, "The Ugly Little Boy," by Issac Asimov, this novel expands the tale into a monumental battle between a nurse, hired to take care of a Neanderthal child kidnapped from his tribe 40,000 years ago by a research company, Stasis Technologies, and the firm, which exploits him.
The book builds to a startling climax, as the nurse, who initially sees the child as a subhuman "ape-boy," grows to admire and love him.
There are also some interesting sections that tell the story of the Neanderthal tribe, its suspected religious beliefs, and its clash with the "Other Ones" for territory.
This is a book that you will cherish and read again over the years.