The sophisticated, almost poetic, writing style of
The Child in Time
approaches hyper-realism, describing actions and thoughts
in minute details, blending stream of consciousness and impressionism.
On the downside, too often the chapters feel like independent short stories
(or indulgent detours).
The plot is rather slim and, ultimately, uneventful.
The unsuspenseful mystery of the ghost childcare manual and the conventional
ending are no match for the exquisite prose style. McEwan is a great writer
in search of a great story.
Stephen is a member of the government's commission on childcare but doesn't
really care. He attends meetings, listens, pretends to vote, but his mind
is elsewhere. He lives lonely, indifferent to most things in the world,
only awaken by the sight of little girls. The reason for this is that two
years earlier someone kidnapped his three-year old daughter while she was
in his shopping cart at a supermarket. The police quickly forgot about the
crime and he tried in vain to find clues. His wife Julie, who had loved him
passionately, went into a state of depression and eventually left him.
Stephen had been a bestselling author of children's books. That happened
by mistake: he set out to write his first novel as a novel of the hippie
generation but then ended up writing a book about his childhood.
A famous publisher convinced him to advertise it as a childhood novel and
it sold millions of copies. The publisher's manager, Charles, and his 12-year
older wife Thelma, a theoretical physicist, eventually became his best friends.
Charles entered politics and became a minister. Then one day suddenly resigned,
influenced by his wife's desire for a quiet rural lifestyle and for writing
Stephen and Julie meet months later again and even make love, but their
relationship seems doomed. Stephen's mind increasingly drifts back to his
childhood. One day his imagination even shows him his young parents in a pub,
their bicycles parked outside, having a difficult discussion.
They too have been devastated by the loss of their only grandchild.
On his way to Charles' and Thelma's new home Stephen is almost killed in a
terrible accident. He saves the life of a truck driver. Then he heads for
the friends' house, where he has to elude a group of beggars.
He soon realizes that Charles has gone mad, regressed to childhood.
Stephen tells Thelma about seeing his young parents in the pub and asks her about time travel.
She gives him a delirious answer about contemporary physics.
Stephen's morale is shaken again when his daughter's birthday approaches.
He even buys her a pile of gifts.
One day the prime minister's office calls and summons him to a lunch with the
prime minister. On his way to the appointment Stephen sees a girl in a school's
playground who looks just like Kate. He jumps out of the car and rushes to
the school. He tells the headmaster that this Ruth must certainly be his stolen
daughter, but the school has known them for longer and he has personally known
her parents since she was a baby. This embarrassing incident, however, has
the effect of somewhat healing Stephen. When the prime minister's secretary
calls again, Stephen refuses another appointment and accepts only when the
secretary implies that he has no choice.
One night a member of the committee, Morley, shows up (bleeding because he
tripped on the stairs). He delivers a book that a disaffected civil servant
has given him. That book has been hidden by the government but appears to be
an official publication that contradicts what Stephen's and Morley's childcare committee has been working on.
Stephen is on his way to visit his ill mother. His mother tells him that the
episode of the pub truly happened. They were madly in love, but the war
separated them; she got pregnant,
Stephen's father didn't receive the news with enthusiasm, she almost felt like
getting an abortion. Eerily, she remembers a child staring at them from outside
the window, and remembers feeling that he was her own child. That's what
convinced her to keep the child (who will be Stephen, completing the circle).
While news of the childcare book secretely commissioned by the prime minister
leaks to the press, Stephen is visited by the prime minister. The politician
confesses that he is obsessed with Charles, who, instead, has not wanted any
direct communication between them. The prime minister even had Charles spied
and found out that Charles was visiting brothels.
It turns out that Charles is indeed on his way to visit Charles because Thelma
called him (at the train station he gives his old coat to a poor little beggar
to whom he had once given money).
When he arrives, Thelma breaks the news: Charles has died.
Unbeknownst to Stephen, Charles had repeatedly tried to kill himself.
Thelma also confesses that Charles himself is the author of the childcare
manual, and that he wrote it because the prime minister ordered him to do so.
That mystery clarified, the novel turns to Charles' private life: Julie calls
with important news. Charles takes the first train and rushes to her cottage:
she is pregnant, and in fact she is about to give birth. It does so with his
help and the new baby restores them to a normal couple life.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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