The Child in Time
But whatever time is, the common sense, every day version of it as linear, regular, absolute, marching from left to right, from the past through the present to the future, is either nonsense, or a tiny fraction of the truth.
The Child in Time was quite unfocused and I have to say, for me, it didn’t really work. There were parts I enjoyed, definitely, but I found myself wondering more than once if there’s an actual point to the story. It was written during the Thatcher administration and, even if it’s set in some indeterminate and slightly alternative reality (the beggar permits and the whole political machine are rather surreal and a bit naive) I think it’s ultimately dated, intimately connected to that particular political climate (a bit like a Pulp song, really. I mean, as much as I love Common people and the likes, they reflect the spirit of an age now past). The bit of experimentation with social and political systems was, to me, rather bland and uninteresting. It failed to add any depth to the characters; it seemed to be there more as space filler than anything else. And I could say the same thing about Thelma’s & Charles’s story: it felt superfluous. Now, I’m definitely not making any absolute pronouncements – I’m just trying to explain what didn’t click for me. When you so brilliantly begin to tell a story with a man losing his child in a supermarket the reader (or this reader) can’t really be expected to care all that much about some committee meetings or some guy in his 50s going off the rails. Maybe it’s just another case of thwarted expectations – but I’ll say it again, could have done without Stephen’s professional life and without his relations with the Darkes (I wonder if these two are around for anything other than moving the plot along).
Now – let’s move on to what worked. Mr. McEwan created a very real, very relatable internal universe for Stephen Lewis. While I was reading a particular fragment on Stephen & Julie’s awkwardness around each other after the loss of their daughter I couldn’t help thinking that they could be a precursor to the couple in Chesil Beach (or rather – the very poetic documenting of Stephen’s every thought could be a starting point for the raw openness of Chesil Beach). The chapter dealing with Kate’s loss was wrenching even to someone who, like me, doesn’t really like children. The drama of losing is child is not something that can be empathized with (it would be utterly ridiculous to say you know what a parent feels in such a situation) but, reading through those pages you get a glimpse, just for a moment into a kind of pain you can’t really feel. Apparently, Mr. McEwan wrote the book while he was fighting a custody battle for his own children, so I expect he poured some of his experiences into it.
Another interesting narrative thread was that of Stephen’s parents and the whole child in time thing. To spoil or not to spoil? Hmmm…..I say yes. Stephen (not Kate, as I initially thought) is the child in time; he has a vision of his parents as young people, discussing something serious in a country pub and, when he confronts this with his mother’s story, it turns out she actually saw a child staring at her outside that pub and somehow she knew it was her son (even though he had only been conceived 2 months before). Since the conversation was on whether to keep the baby or not, this image fortified her resolve to have the child. Perhaps, if it wasn’t for him, Stephen would never have been born – talk about the linear nature of time.
If this had simply been all about Stephen & Julie’s grief and long road to recovery, I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more. As such –I’d recommend the book only to a McEwan completist. (Oh – and I forgot to mention: the ending was totally contrived and read like a Young & Restless plotline.)
The guys at Time though called the book astonishing. You might want to listen to them, rather than me 😀