The Child in Time

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Overview

Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of more than ten books, including the novels The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize, and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award, as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He has also written screenplays, plays, television scripts, a children’s book, and the libretto for an ...
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The Child in Time

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Overview

Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of more than ten books, including the novels The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize, and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award, as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He has also written screenplays, plays, television scripts, a children’s book, and the libretto for an oratorio. He lives in London.

A spare yet evocative novel that explores the dark sides of parenting and humanity by an author compared to Dickens, Lawrence and Woolf.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A death-defying story, inventive, eventful, and affirmative without being sentimental." —Time"Luminous, haunting, restrained . . . cuts to the core of human existence." —Chicago Tribune"Resonates with psychological reality: the beautifully layered relationships, the tracing of the many-layered love between father and child, husband and wife. . . . As artfully conceived as it is poignantly realized." —The New York Times Book Review"A great pleasure to read. . . . McEwan writes as if Dickens, Lawrence, and Woolf were in his bones. . . . Funny and unsentimentally passionate." —The Wall Street Journal
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A sense of loss pervades this fine, provocative new novel by the author of The Comfort of Strangers. The protagonist, Stephen Lewis, a successful author of children's books, is introduced to us in a scene more frightening than any from a horror novel: while he is shopping with Kate, his three-year-old daughter, the child is kidnapped. Stephen's mounting terror as he combs the store for Katetrying in vain to recall the face of the dark-clad stranger he glimpsed behind themis palpable. As the story moves forward, it focuses not only on Stephen's search for his daughter, but also on his attempts to come to terms with his loss and the likely collapse of his marriage to Julie, a musician. Woven through the narrative is a subplot that deals with childhood and loss of a different sort. It is the innocence of youth that Stephen's friend and former editor, Charles Darke, longs for and ultimately recaptures at a terrible price. This is a beautifully rendered, very disturbing novel.
Library Journal
There are actually several childen in McEwan's new novel: Stephen Lewis's kidnapped daughter; the barefoot boy his friend Charles tries (with fatal results) to become; the hypothetical child under study by the Official Commission on Child Care, on one of whose subcommittees Stephen sits. And there are several fictional modes at work, ranging from a realistic account of wrenching personal loss to a satire on bureaucracy. Unfortunately these varying aspects undercut rather than reinforce one another, and the result is a muddle. English writer McEwan made his name with the scarifying stories in First Love, Last Rites ( LJ 6/15/75). Despite a happy ending, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that here he's working in an uncongenial genre. Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385497527
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ANCHOR
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 593,412
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

First Love, Last Rites was McEwan's first published book and is a collection of short stories that in 1976 won the Somerset Maugham Award. A second volume of his work appeared in 1978. These stories--claustrophobic tales of childhood, deviant sexuality and disjointed family life--were remarkable for their formal experimentation and controlled narrative voice. McEwan's first novel, The Cement Garden (1978), is the story of four orphaned children living alone after the death of both parents. To avoid being taken into custody, they bury their mother in the cement of the basement and attempt to carry on life as normally as possible. Soon, an incestuous relationship develops between the two oldest children as they seek to emulate their parents roles. The Cement Garden was followed by The Comfort of Strangers (1981), set in Venice, a tale of fantasy, violence, and obsession. The Child in Time (1987) won the Whitbread Novel Award and marked a new confidence in McEwan's writing. The story revolves around the devastating effects of the loss of a child through child abduction. Readers may know McEwan's work through these and other books, or more recently through his novel, Atonement, which was made into a major motion picture.

Biography

One of the most distinguished novelists of his generation, Ian McEwan was born in England and spent much of his childhood traveling with his father, an army officer stationed in the Far East, Germany, and North Africa. He graduated from Sussex University in 1970 with a degree in English Literature and received his MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.

McEwan burst upon the literary scene in the mid-1970s with two short story collections that highlighted with equal clarity his early predilection for disturbing, somewhat shocking subject matter and his dazzling prose style. Similarly, his 1978 debut novel, The Cement Garden, attracted as much attention for its unsettling storyline as for its stylistic brilliance. But even though his early work was saturated with deviant sex, violence, and death (so much so that he earned the nickname "Ian MacAbre"), he was never dismissed as a mere purveyor of cheap thrills. In fact, two of his most provocative works (The Comfort of Strangers and Enduring Love) were shortlisted for major U.K. awards.

As he has matured, McEwan has moved away from disquieting themes like incest, sadism, and psychotic obsession to explore more introspective human dramas. In an interview with The New Republic he described his literary evolution in this way:

"One passes the usual milestones in life: You have children, you find that whether you like it or not, you have a huge investment in the human project somehow succeeding. You become maybe a little more tolerant as you get older. Pessimism begins to feel something like a badge that you perhaps do not wear so easily. There is something delicious and reckless about the pessimism of being 21. And when you get older you feel maybe a little more delicate and hope that things will flourish. You don't want to take a stick to it."
Among many literary honors, McEwan has been awarded the Somerset Maugham Award for First Love, Last Rites (1976) and the Whitbread Prize for The Child in Time (1987). Nominated three times for the Booker Prize, he finally won in 1998 for Amsterdam. He has also received the WH Smith Literary Award and National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award for Atonement (2001) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Saturday (2005).

Good To Know

While developing the Harry Perowne, the neurosurgeon in Saturday, McEwan actually spent a year observing a neurosurgeon at work, which included time spent in the operating theater.

Although he is known principally for his novels, McEwan has also brought his vision to the screen as writer of the films The Ploughman's Lunch (1983) and Soursweet (1988).

Hollywood loves McEwan. Film adaptions of his novels include The Cement Garden, The Comfort of Strangers, The Innocent, Enduring Love, and Atonement.

McEwan is no stranger to controversy. In 1999, his first wife kidnapped their 13-year-old son.The child was returned and McEwan awarded sole custody. His ex-wife was fined for "defamation" of McEwan's name.

In 2002, Ian McEwan discovered that he had a brother born from an affair between McEwan's parents that occurred before their marriage and given up for adoption during WWII. Since their relationship has come to light, McEwan and his brother have met frequently and forged a friendship.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Ian Russell McEwan
    2. Hometown:
      Oxford, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 21, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Aldershot, England
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Sussex, 1970; M.A., University of East Anglia, 1971
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

"...and for those parents, for too many years misguided by pallid relativism of self-appointed child-care experts..."
- The Authorized Child-Care Handbook,
Her Majesty's Stationery Office

Subsidizing public transport had long been associated in the minds of both government and the majority of its public with the denial of individual liberty.  The various services collapsed twice a day at rush hour when it was quicker, Stephen found, to walk from his flat at Whitehall than to take a taxi.  It was late May, barely nine-thirty, and already the temperature was nudging the eighties.  He strode to Vauxhall Bridge past double and treble files of trapped, throbbing cars, each with its solitary driver.  In tone the pursuit of liberty was more resigned than passionate.  Ringed fingers drummed patiently on the sill of a hot tin roof, white-shirted elbows poked through rolled-down windows.  There were newspapers spread over steering wheels.  Stephen stepped quickly through the crowds, through layers of car radio blather--jingles, high-energy breakfast DJs, news flashes, traffic "alerts."  Those drivers not reading listened stolidly.  The steady forward press of the pavement crowds must have conveyed to them a sense of relative motion, of drifting slowly backwards.

Jigging and weaving to overtake, Stephen remained as always, though barely consciously, on the watch for children, for a five-year-old girl.  It was more than a habit, for a habit could be broken.  This was a disposition, the outline experience had stenciled on character.  It was not principally a search, though it had once been an obsessive hunt, and for a long time too.  Two years on, only vestiges of that remained; now it was a longing, a dry hunger.  There was a biological clock, dispassionate in its unstoppability, which let his daughter go on growing, extended and complicated her simple vocabulary, made her stronger, her movements surer.  The clock, sinewy like a heart, kept faith with an unceasing conditional: she would be drawing, she would be starting to read, she would be losing a milk tooth.  She would be familiar, taken for granted.  It seemed as though the proliferating instances might wear down this conditional, the frail, semiopaque screen whose fine tissues of time and chance separated her from him; she is home from school and tired, her tooth is under the pillow, she is looking for her daddy.

Any five-year-old girl --though boys would do -- gave substance to her continued existence.  In shops, past playgrounds, at the houses of friends, he could not fail to watch out for Kate in other children, or ignore them in the slow changes, the accruing competences, or fail to feel the untapped potency of weeks and months, the time that should have been hers.  Kate's growing up had become the essence of time itself.  Her phantom growth, the product of an obsessive sorrow, was not only inevitable -- nothing could stop the sinewy clock -- but necessary.  Without the fantasy of her continued existence he was lost, time would stop.  He was the father of an invisible child.

But here on Millbank there were only ex-children shuffling to work.  Further up, just before Parliament or Whitehall or within sight of the square.  But a few were taking advantage of the confluence of commuter routes.  He saw their bright badges from a couple of hundred yards away.  This was their weather, and they looked cocky with their freedom.  The wage-earners had to give way.  A dozen beggars were working both sides of the street, moving towards him steadily against the surge.  It was a child Stephen was watching now, not a five-year-old, but a skinny prepubescent.  She had registered him at some distance.  She walked slowly, somnambulantly, the regulation black bowl extended.  The office workers parted and converged about her.  Her eyes were fixed on Stephen as she came.  He felt the usual ambivalence.  To give money ensured the success of the government program.  Not to give involved some determined facing-away from private distress.  There was no way out.  The art of bad government was to sever the line between public policy and intimate feeling, the instinct for what was right.  These days he left the matte to chance.  If he had small change in his pocket, he gave it.  If not, he gave nothing.  He never handed out banknotes.

The girl was brown-skinned from sunny days on the street.  She wore a grubby yellow cotton frock and her hair was severely cropped.  Perhaps she had been deloused.  As he distance closed he saw she was pretty, impish and freckled with a pointed chin.  She was no more than twenty feet away when she ran forward and took from the pavement a lump of still glistening chewing gum.  She popped it in her mouth and began to chew.  The little head tilted back defiantly as she looked again in his direction.

Then she was before him, the standard-issue bowl held out before her.  She had chosen him minutes ago, it was a trick they had.  Appalled, he had reached into his back pocket for a five-pound note.  She looked on with neutral expression as he set it down on top of the coins.

As soon as his hand was clear, the girl picked the note out, rolled it tight into her fist, and said, "Fuck you, mister."  She was edging round him.

Stephen put his hand on the hard, narrow shoulder and gripped.  "What was that you said?"

The girl turned and pulled away. The eyes had shrunk, the voice was reedy. "I said, Fank you, mister."  She was out of reach when she added, "Rich creep!"

Stephen showed empty palms in mild rebuke.  He smiled without parting his lips to convey his immunity to the insult.  But the kid had resumed her steady, sleepwalker's step along the street.  He watched her for a full minute before he lost her in the crowd.  She did not glance back.

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Customer Reviews

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( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 9, 2009

    a moving reading of a deeply touching story

    This is my favourite McEwen book so far, and renowned English actor Nathaniel Parker (who has recorded many audio-books) gives one of his most moving readings in this recording. Both the novel and the reading are restrained, but not in that notorious British stiff-upper-lip way: there's plenty of emotion, but you have to be still enough to feel it. No, it's not exactly 'light entertainment', but I know I will listen to this several times over. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2005

    Getting over Loss

    The book is about loss, from the sinking physical feeling in one's stomach when the horror sets in, to the eventual climb out of the abyss many years later, and not without scars. Although the subplot about his friend was distracting at times, and whether certain events were reality vs. imagination wasn't always clear (and maybe not meant to be) all in all it was a compelling story and written very well. The ending gave hope, which is what recovering from loss is all about.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2003

    Still Reading

    As i am still young when i first started reading the book i was quite confused, but as i read on i became more drawn into the book. The sense of time and the relationships developed in the book are very exciting. I am still readin this book but i definitely belive that it has been written very well!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2003

    Simply a success

    McEwan's novel 'The Child In Time' has created a lasting effect on me as one of his better books to date. The use of language, syntax and empathy literally breaches your emotional boundaries, meaning you actually lose the ability to put it down! An outstanding success, and one that I could personally relate to.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2000

    Just Keep Reading!

    'The Child in Time' tells the story of a man learning to cope with the loss of his young daughter. McEwan also shows how this one moment sends Stephen on a downward spiral into depression and the knock-on effect it has on his relationship with his wife Julie. The main themes in this title include grief, relationships and, as the title suggests, time, involving an interesting moment where Stephen is looking at his mother who is carrying his foetal self. Overall, this is a very good book which I enjoyed very much: Chapter 1 is VERY emotional but just keep reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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