Huh. I am not sure where to begin on this one. Many people I respect really like this McEwan novel, but I don’t. There were parts of the story line that I found interesting, but taking it all as a whole I thought it was a little contrived and some passages were downright tedious. I can only handle so many dream sequences, day dreams, imagined situations, and narrative ambiguity. I feel like McEwan tried too hard to weave together too many narrative strands to illustrate and generally reinforce the meta-theme of the book–which appeared to have something to do with childhood. The kidnapping of his child (that’s not a spoiler), the breakdown of his marriage, his parents’ relationship, his friend’s career/mental health, a government subcommittee all employed to say something about childhood and apparently something about Thatcher’s Britain.
And there were three scenes that I found stretched my willingness to suspend disbelief to the breaking point. Not surprisingly for my OCD mind, they weren’t the quasi-ghost stories sprinkled here and there. It had more to do with details that I just didn’t find plausible. The scene where Stephen thinks he has found his daughter would never have played out the way that it did. Even in the relatively innocent days of 1987 a strange adult would never have been allowed access to a nine-year old student even if in the presence of the headmaster. The scene where the Prime Minister comes to visit read like a bad Hollywood movie. And the scene where he hops a ride in the engine of a train. Yeah right.
I forgive anyone who finds me a bit thick for not getting this book. I am sure there is something important here. McEwan is a great writer and I have enjoyed many of his books, and indeed I found some parts of this book very compelling and enjoyable. But overall it was just a little tedious and precious. I am not prepared to say that I absolutely did not like it, but I came close.