Book Review: The Child in Time by Ian McEwan


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.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: The Child in Time by Ian McEwan

  1. StuckInABook February 15, 2011 / 7:33 pm

    I have a love/hate relationship with McEwan – he's so variable. At best (Black Dogs) I love him; at worst (Saturday) it all seems so self-congratulatory.


  2. mary February 15, 2011 / 8:20 pm

    I found this one tedious, too. I completely agree with Simon, he's so variable (and Saturday was awful!)


  3. agoodstoppingpoint February 15, 2011 / 10:06 pm

    I have only read Atonement by McEwan, which I really liked. However, I've never had a strong pull toward any of his other books yet.

    And ugh, dream sequences. It is very rare that those are pulled off in books, in my opinion.

    – Christy


  4. LifetimeReader February 16, 2011 / 7:57 am

    I was just trying to decide if I should feel guilty for never having read McEwan. I think you have convinced me I should feel much more guilty for never having read a Persephone.


  5. February 16, 2011 / 9:07 am

    I'm like Simon – have a very love/hate relationship with McEwan. Love Atonement, hate Solar. I have to confess I didn't even make it through this one, though now I don't feel so bad as it doesn't sound worth it!


  6. Susan in TX February 16, 2011 / 9:47 am

    I love a good honest review. Atonement is the only McEwan I've read, but I have Saturday on my TBR shelf. It sounds like everyone agrees with you that you have to pick and choose with his books. A good thing to keep in mind when I'm out and about browsing.


  7. Thomas at My Porch February 16, 2011 / 4:48 pm

    Simon: I have never heard of Black Dogs. I loved On Chesil Beach. I also have Saturday in my TBR Nightstand. Now I am thinking it may not get read soon.

    Mary: Another vote against Saturday. Now I am starting to get intrigued.

    Christy: I find dream sequences in fiction and in real life when people want to tell you about their dreams, really boring.

    Lifetime: I think you should read McEwan, maybe just not this one. My personal favorite is On Chesil Beach.

    Tea: I have definitely heard iffy things about Solar.

    Susan: The only thing about picking and choosing is that you don't know until you are already invested.


  8. Marie February 16, 2011 / 9:33 pm

    I go really hot and cold with McEwan. I will admit I liked this one a lot when I read it but it was a long time ago and I couldn't tell you why I liked it. And there are lots of his books that I liked more.


  9. LifetimeReader February 17, 2011 / 7:22 am

    I put the audio of On Chesil Beach on my library hold shelf last week and it should be in soon–so I am thrilled to hear your recommendation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.