'The Child In Time' was my first exposure to McEwan, and despite some reservations, led me to reading the rest of his novels and short stories. The child of the title is not one individual but many, and it is the parallels between childhood and adulthood, sanity and madness, portrayed through a number of 'childhoods', both literal and figurative which makes the book work on a number of levels. The main plot concerns Steven's attempts to find his lost daughter, to accept his loss and to salvage his crumbling marriage. Along the way he is drawn back into his own childhood in a sequence of incidents, often therapeutic, at times unhealthy and downright disturbing, where he is forced into examining both his relationship with his parents, and himself as an individual and as a parent. Throughout the process there is the cautionary figure of Charles Darke, a man denied childhood and regressing in his middle age, and the forays of both into politics, with its own bizarre parent-child structures.
The book manages to depict all of this, with realistic, fully formed and yet novel characters, whilst also commenting on British life as it was and as it could have been in a matter of years. As well as the ridiculous workings of politics and spin, the effects of television and the press are shown and the world of publishing is represented by Darke. In this way, McEwan evokes a whole credible environment that supports his points.
My main criticism of the novel is McEwan's tendency towards the sentimental, and in particular his conventional and less than realistic views of men (as active) and women (passive), which undermines the richness and scope of humanity that is such an asset in this tale. I would say this is something evident in his novels as a whole.
There are other novels which treat the theme of lost children ('Ghost Children' by Sue Townsend is a recent attempt) but fail to pack as much meaning into their pages or draw as many conclusions as McEwan does in this enjoyable, original and stimulating book.