on 27 September 2006
I felt compelled to write a review of this book after reading the ones already submitted below. I know that enjoyment of a book is personal to the reader, but I was surprised to find that there were so few positive reviews. The Child In Time is one of my favourite books of all time and certainly my favourite of the novels by McEwan that I have read. I disagree with the opinions that only parents, couples and politicians will enjoy or get anything from this book - I first read it for my A Level in English Literature (i.e. as a 17 year old student) and loved it, and have since re-read it at age 25 and loved it even more because now I'm older - albeit still childless and still not a politician - I have been able to gain more meaning from it and discover new levels to it.
For me, the best thing about this book is the quality of the writing. I find when reading The Child In Time that I can visualise perfectly the scenes and empathise with the feelings McEwan describes, despite having never experienced the trauma of losing a child, the break-up of my marriage or witnessing a friend's mental breakdown. That to me is the mark of a top-class writer. I felt that the characters were utterly believable, and although the plot may not be action-packed from start to finish I liked that about it because somehow that makes it more starkly realistic.
Anyway, as I said at the beginning of this review, I know everyone who reads The Child In Time will feel differently about it, and just because I love it doesn't mean you will. The reviews below just seem overall to be negative about this book and I wanted to speak out in favour of a book that I feel is beautifully written and ultimately uplifting.
on 9 August 2014
I first read this in A Level English some two decades ago. It was one of those unusual books which I came to love and enjoy more through reading, rereading, studying, taking apart and writing essays over: there are precious few books I could spend two years studying in depth and come out still able and willing to read it for pleasure. There's some truly beautiful, almost elegiac prose in here that still moves me. I think it's a fairly unpopular opinion, but I much prefer it to the lauded Atonement.
That said, I'm sure it's not for everyone. There are elements of what I'm tempted to call magical realism, the book is set in a London which is slightly off kilter, there are strange time jumps and interconnected stories and... well, it's not a book I'd recommend for a mindless read on a long plane flight, or to anyone who didn't have the patience for a more meandering and demanding read. There is also the simple fact that the main thread through the story is the abduction of a three year old child and the havoc that wreaks on the lives of her parents, which I know makes it a "can't read, won't read" for some. It's also not a thriller or a page turner.
What it is, is an interesting, thoughtful, thought provoking book that held me captive as a seventeen year old and can still do so nearly twenty years later. It's not for everyone, and I definitely feel it's one of those books where the "look inside"/sample functions reeeeeally come into their own, but it is IMO definitely worth the time to download that sample.
on 22 November 2006
Like the previous reviewer I feel compelled to counter some of the criticism levelled at 'The Child In Time', a novel I believe to be one of Ian McEwan's finest.
The novel follows a narrative trajectory that is common to many of McEwan's works: one significant - and in this case highly tragic - event leads to a period of disintegration and an exploration of themes.
In 'The Child In Time' a virtuosity of interwoven storylines all centre on the protagonist Stephen Lewis, and offer a deep exploration of the nature of the personal and the private. These two worlds are juxtaposed brilliantly, and with great subtlety. Stephen is presented as father, children's author, member of a government committee on childcare and friend. As in 'Saturday' there are lengthy passages involved with the minutaie of professional life - in this case Whitehall - but perhaps some of the political machinations become more relevant to the reader when viewed as embodiments of the Government stance on childcare, and the more self-centred ideology of the time. It is wrong to criticise the book on account of these sections seeming 'dull' or 'irrelevant' as has been the case below, as they are all part of the common theme of the novel; whether political life is relevant to the reader or not should not matter when it is the nature of time and childhood that is in fact being discussed. This is relevant to us all.
Further weight is given to McEwan's premise in the contrast of the rural and the urban; the rural embodying the return to the private self, the public world of city life presented as a complacent treadmill of government reports, noise and people.
Whereas a novel like 'Enduring Love' cannot live up to its infamous opening passage, 'The Child In Time' has a sense of balance that is hard to find in many modern novels. Whilst certainly not a traditional closure, the unity and proportion of the novel is nigh-on perfect. Whilst it may be a novel of Ideas, and for the most part follows the protagonist's masculine emotional bluntness, it is also by the end profoundly moving. A spine-tingling climax to a genuinely brilliant novel.
on 29 May 2001
'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.
on 5 December 1999
The finest book by Ian Mcewan I have ever read. The attention to detail on every page gives this novel an extra dimension, and Mcewan has dedicated so much thought to this book that it makes your mind spin. Parts of this are liable to change your life, you will find yourself drawn into Stephen's life and as a consequence you suffer as much as he does. Brilliant and utterly absorbing.
on 20 November 2008
the child in time is a good example of what mcewan is all about. not the place to go for a gripping page turner, but thoroughly absorbing in every stroke of the pen.
mcewan is aware of the complexities of life, and through a linear medium is able to present a layered, textured, 3-dimensional portrayal of the situations under his attentive gaze, characterised by his micro-vision.
the child in the title is at once a central character, the nature of children and child rearing, and the child in all of us, as it comes and goes. similarly, the rest of the title refers to times in life and lifetimes, the particular time in our history, pure time in existence. (perhaps at the time of writing, 20 years younger, mcewan was more interested than he might be today, in questions of coincidence, serendipity, synchronicity and the like, laced with the mystical possibilities of the then new physics.) so the title itself is already a paradigm for the entire work and the method of working.
the writing is delightful; incisive and insightful, sympathetic and at times poetic.
an excellent introduction for newcomers and a treat for fans.
on 1 April 2012
The story has a simple premise with a complex message. The premise is that a father takes his child shopping and the child is abducted whilst in his care. In the years after the abduction, we follow the father in his grief. The way in which we interact with our everyday surroundings is explored and the way in which we conduct ourselves and our work is sometimes overlooked to fulfil our own needs, with no real thought about our actions on others. The protagonist is so wrapped up in his own grief, he neglects his wife's feelings and finds solitude in the bottle and the past. His wife who neglects her husband to find solitude in the countryside. A Prime Minister that is so obsessed with a colleague, he fails to see the moral needs of the country he serves. The friend who neglects his wife to reacquaint himself with his youth and his wife who is so obsessed with her work she lets him self destruct. At times the text is a lucid dream exploring our relationship with time and how it only has any real passage when attached to an event. The protagonist comes full circle having almost relived a second childhood and has a greater understanding of where he fits in to the world and how that impacts the people closest to him.
I enjoyed the simple approach in style. It wasn't overly fussy and sat nicely behind the protagonist. It would have been hard to tell that this wasn't a book set in our present, it was written in the late 80s with main events unfolding in the book at the turn of century. The politics the book describes were eerily familiar to today's politics in the UK. In fact, there were only a few things gave it away, for example, using a phone box and not a mobile phone and opening a train door when it is at the push of a button. Other than that I don't think we are too far away from a disenfranchised underclass, the melancholy of the middle class, licensed beggars and Victorian style handbooks for raising children.
A must read.
on 31 August 2010
Stephen Lawes appears to be pretty well-heeled. His successes seem remarkable. He is a successful writer of children's books. He is acquainted with Charles Darke, who is apparently being groomed for a ministerial position in government. Via this connection, Stephen also sits on a Whitehall committee to examine policy options on childhood, children, education and related issues. He himself also seems to have the prime minister's ear. He has a wife, Julie, who loves him and beautiful little three-year-old daughter, Kate, whom he worships.
But then one day Kate is no longer there. On a trip to the shops with her father, there are events that take her out of her parents' lives. In her absence, Stephen continues to worship her, to see her walking along the street, in a school playground, perhaps everywhere he tries to look. Meanwhile life goes on, but for Stephen aspects of it begin to disintegrate. The child has stopped his time.
There follows, in Ian McEwan's novel, The Child In Time, an examination of childhood. In various guises, this biologically-fixed but socially-defined state is seen to influence and control the lives of the book's characters. The fact that children are sexually and physically immature human beings whose characteristics are still developing seems pretty immutable. But what is it that demands they should eat special foods from special menus? Is it essential that the experience of childhood should be always multi-coloured, perhaps as a preparation for the unending greyness of adulthood? And why, in the twenty-first century is it deemed that children should not work, when in the nineteenth it was considered desirable, perhaps even essential for everyone's greater well-being?
If we are stressed in our daily lives, how much of our ability to cope, or not cope, stems from our ability to re-invent a child's curiosity and enthusiasm, not to mention naiveté? And is this state also perhaps a place of protecting retreat? And how exactly did we manage to create this space?
The Child In Time examines several strands of thought relating to infancy, childhood and dependency via the assumptions and reactions of adults. It is a novel with multiple parallel strands, more of a meditation on a theme than a focused, linear progression. It always plays with its ideas.
But not all of them work. Charles Darke's adoption of a second childhood, whether conscious or not, as a means of protecting himself from himself, is compellingly credible. But the presence of licensed beggars in a society not located in any particular time or any declared political ideology simply doesn't wash. This science-fiction element of the book asks a sound but imagined question about our attitudes toward childhood, but jars with and detracts from the rest of the book's recognisable landscape.
As ever, Ian McEwan mixes concepts of philosophy and sociology with the minutiae of daily life. Stephen Lawes does not seem to be wholly credible, however. His mix of interests and capabilities seems to be a tad too eclectic, too widely and thinly spread for him to come across as convincing in any discipline. At times, he seems even peripheral, dashing from one event to the next merely to witness what the author wanted to illustrate.
But these are small criticisms of a magnificent book. Eventually the novel provides an uplifting experience. It takes the reader to places where the characters find themselves, places where they also want to be. Then, having reached their goal, much of what went before falls into new perspectives, and the whole process might just be ready to start again, but this time in socially-changed garb. It's a bit like life, really...
on 10 July 2008
Well, to all those that didn't like this novel, and feel the need to attack it - guess what, it's literature, not everyone's going to like it. Criticism is fair enough, but some of the reviews are just childish and boring.
I found this to be a truly disturbing read - the opening incident is truly harrowing, and the aftermath is what leads the ptotagonist, Stephen, into a story of touching sensitivity; an exploration of loss and what it is to need to be found.
What I found interesting is that there was always something at stake for the characters in this novel, always something to be gained or lost, which really heightens the drama. It had a beautifully constructed narrative arc, and the ending for me was spot-on.
Not my favourite McEwan by any means, but for fans of his work, a truly rewarding read.
A fascinating novel, with original themes, written skillfully. 'The Child In Time' has a slightly dystopian feel, set in a UK with a Big Brother-ish government. The protagonist is Stephen Lewis, a children's author whose own daughter was kidnapped three years before the main story is set. The major theme is childhood, and the way in which children perceive time. As such the story mixes intellectual elements of storyline to do with the nature of time, with Stephen's emotional journey to cope with the loss of his child.
There is something oddly disjointed about the book which gives it a rather spooky, surreal feeling. Elements of it really don't ring true - the character of Charles Darke, for one, others being the ease in which Stephen walks into a primary school unchallenged and the relative lack of furore over the kidnap of Kate - given the massive media interest that usually gets shown in such cases. I also wasn't entirely convinced by the ending.
That said, it's a bold idea and its freshness and originality are to be applauded. McEwan does write well, rarely becoming overly intellectual despite the nature of some of his themes. This is a complex book and one that I imagine would be good to study for English Literature. It's also not a bad casual read either.