"The Child in Time" by Ian McEwan

Categories: Grief

“The Child in Time” by Ian McEwan is the second McEwan book I have read. The first being The Children Act last year which I really enjoyed so I decided to read more of his writing. I was drawn to The Child in Time because the book has no blurb which I had never seen before, so I was determined to finish it. I also thought it was a clever idea because it means you can’t judge the book before you start it.

The first chapter I think was really well written, and it felt a lot like The Children Act to read. There is an absolutely beautiful line on the second page that ‘he was the father of an invisible child.’ When I read that line, I thought that this book would be really good, and I was really looking forward to reading the rest of it. The recount of the day the main character, Stephen, lost his daughter Kate in the supermarket was written simply but it was powerful to read at the same time.

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Stephen recounted the day as though it was any other day with the addition of little specific details like winking at Kate while waiting at the checkout and her clumsily ‘winking’ back with both eyes which makes the story feel real and believable. It was also laid out perfectly how quickly a marriage can break down after the loss of a child.

The first chapter the book jumps from ‘tear your heart out and stomp on it’ material which makes you prepare for an extremely emotional story but then for the rest of the book McEwan seemed to switch back and forth between long winded descriptions that are a page long and multiple pages of ‘padding’ that doesn’t seem to be important to the storyline which can get tedious to read very quickly.

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for example, when he wrote over a page on a dispute between a Russian and an American track athlete at the Olympics that provided nothing to the story other than to say that Stephen didn’t care about it. Another example is a road accident that doesn’t really seem to be there for any other reason but to show (like a worked example in a maths book) how time seems to slow down or to speed up depending on what is happening in your life. At a third of the way through the book I still had no idea where the book was going and was unsure as to what the actual story line was because it seemed to go off in so many different directions.

I could probably count on one hand the number of scenes in this book that I enjoyed reading, the first being the recount of the day Stephen lost Kate. The second would probably be on pages 42 and 43 where one of Stephens friends, Thelma, takes him from his apartment to her house because she is convinced that he isn’t properly looking after himself and his wife Julie had left. The third on pages 52 and 53 where Stephen and Julie have a meal together and Kates absence is painfully obvious. My favourite scene in the entire book is a heartbreaking one. Kate’s birthday is coming up and Stephen goes to a toy store and buys her a heap of presents even though he knows she will never get them. One of the presents is a set of walkie talkies and when he gets home he puts batteries in them and sings happy birthday into one while leaving the other sitting near the door to his apartment and walks away from it. I enjoyed these scenes because they were actually relevant to Stephens missing child rather than just talking about what he was watching on the tv.

I kept expecting Kate to show up or get mentioned by someone. There was a scene where Stephen narrowly avoided a car crash then helped a guy out of his wrecked vehicle and I was expecting the guy to know something about Kate, and right at the end when Stephen gets a call from Julie and he is so eager to get to her I expected her to have found Kate. She is just mentioned briefly now and again then forgotten about. The fact that there is no resolution to her disappearance was frustrating for me. As the reader I want to know what happens, but she just disappears off the face of the earth. Even if she ended up dead, as horribly depressing as that sounds, at least we know what happened to her. As the book progresses, Stephen gradually learns to combat his grief and move on with his life to some degree even though he still spends meetings at work thinking about Kate.

After Kates sudden disappearance Stephen and his wife Julie fall away from each other and cradle their grief separately. Julie goes on a retreat in the Chilterns and when she returns she moves to a secluded cottage by herself in the countryside. Stephen moves into a small flat and occasionally visits Julie. Shortly after Julie left Stephens friend Thelma “had arrived in a snow storm” to take him in because she is concerned that Stephen isn’t looking after himself properly. Her concerns appear to be true with the description that follows her arrival: “She gathered up handfuls of unopened bills and stuffed them into her handbag.” This shows that Stephen has obviously been too caught up in his grief to open letters. He is also so numb that he is incapable of packing a bag of clothing and Thelma must supervise and help him with such a simple task.

Overall, I loved and hated this book at the same time. I feel like I potentially could have loved it and read it again and again but there were just parts of the story that got boring and tedious to read that made the story loose that element. while telling one of my friends about it he told me that if he were in Stephens shoes he probably would have been ready to kill himself after everything Stephen went through, and I can’t say I disagree with him, too loose that much in a few short years must have been terribly hard, I only felt that emotion at a few times. I don’t think it was necessary to include the suicide of Thelma’s husband. I think the book dealt with heavy enough scenes as it is without throwing a suicide, especially such a graphic one, into the mix as well. The themes in the story gave it potential to be a heartbreaking read and there were scenes that were heartbreaking, but I still feel like it fell short of my expectations.

Updated: Feb 22, 2024
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"The Child in Time" by Ian McEwan. (2024, Feb 22). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/quot-the-child-in-time-quot-by-ian-mcewan-essay

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