Szplug's Reviews > The Child in Time

The Child in Time by Ian McEwan
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Apr 13, 11

I was steered towards this—my first encounter with Ian McEwan—several years ago subsequent to discovering in an interview with troubled actor Tom Sizemore that he deemed this book one of the greatest novels he had ever read. Since at the time I was personally in a state of mind that allowed me to relate quite sympathetically with his particular struggle against demons, I impulsively purchased a copy of the book later that same day.

While I can't agree with him on the novel's relative merit, McEwan's look at both the struggles of a father who holds himself responsible for both the kidnapping (and presumed murder) of his young daughter and the subsequent fracturing of his marriage by the hammers of unreconciled guilt and unresolved grief, and those of his friend, a wealthy politician whose own childhood was abducted by a premature imposition of the demands and responsibilities of adulthood, is a haunting and sparse examination of the burdens of loss.

Stephen Lewis, the grieving father, listless and trudging through the days with the aid of the bottle, finds himself (somehow) visiting himself as a lad, reviewing happy days spent with his army father and secret-harboring mother—for in the course of his temporal eavesdropping he becomes aware of the shadow his mother is nursing. Conversely, Drake, his friend, straining under the demands of his position, reverts back to a fantasy childhood wherein all the carefree games he missed out on are recreated; he is humored in his increasingly inelastic delusions by his increasingly concerned wife. Two men, their lives crumbling, seeking solace in their childhood - one making the journey back in time through space, the other through the mind, all in an effort to rediscover those pivotal moments before childhood's end and draw them out, comb them, a deleterious regression to fantasy or a fantasy of penetrating to the essence of a cherished child's life, snatched away in one careless moment, that will forever be frozen in the mind by time's gelid stitching. The supporting cast becomes drawn into these movements as well: Drake's wife's conciliation will lead to estrangment; Lewis' estrangement from his wife will lead to a reconciliation.

I have read a few reviews that protested McEwan's sudden interposing of magical realism, the pat resolution; myself, I tend to grant the author a lot of magical leeway, and I thought the ending tied in with Stephen's awareness of his mother's then-painful decision, and that handful of sentences between sundered husband and wife that eased a tremendous accumulation of guilt. McEwan—informed by his ugly real life custody battle with his ex-wife—alternately takes a detached and elegiac tone, and the novel has moments (especially when Stephen mistakes another man's daughter for his own lost child) that are very moving. A worthwhile read, and a fine introduction to this English author's body of work.
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