Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Child in Time

I've been trying to read all of the books on my shelves. You know, the ones that you don't remember when or where you got them, and they hold surprisingly little appeal considering you actually own them? Anyway, The Child in Time by Ian McEwan was one of those. I think I bought it used for freshman English, I know I never read it, and since my copy doesn't even have a summary on the back I had no idea what it was about.

As it turns out, this is an amazingly powerful novel, and I could not be happier I read it. Not that this is a pick-me-up by any stretch. McEwan's powerful prose and his portrayal of raw human emotion brought me to tears more than once. Once I got into the story, I flew through it. I'm looking forward to reading more of his prolific bibliography.

The setting is a near-future dystopian London. Successful children's author Stephen Lewis is on an ordinary trip to the supermarket with his 3-year-old daughter Kate. Through absolutely no fault of his own, she disappears, and the course of his life is irrevocably altered. Stephen and his wife, Julie, spiral into very different cycles of grief that cause their marriage to disintegrate. Julie moves out of their apartment and becomes a recluse. Stephen spends the majority of his time drinking scotch, with a small government committee as his only responsibility. The book is not a story about Stephen's fruitless search for his daughter, but rather a philosophical journey through a man's emotional growth.

A pivotal theme of the book is that time is fluid. Moments can stretch into hours, entire experiences can contract into seconds, and it always comes down to perspective. During the year after Kate's disappearance, Stephen ultimately comes to grips with both his own existence, as well as the knowledge that his daughter will not return. The book is about memory, childhood, depression, and about the real possibility of moving on.

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