Book: The Child in Time

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The Child in Time

Author: Ian McEwan
Publisher: Anchor

Stephen Lewis, a successful writer of children’s books, is confronted with the unthinkable: his only child, three-year-old Kate, is snatched from him in a supermarket. In one horrifying moment, Stephen must absorb the deadly realization that she is gone.

With extraordinary tenderness and insight, McEwan takes us in the dark territory of a marriage devastated by the loss of a child. Kate’s absence sets Stephen and his wife, Julie, on separate paths. For Stephen, time seems to slow down, and ultimately, to turn on itself, to his own childhood. As Stephen struggles with his own grief, he also witnesses a descent into madness that is the result of a childhood never known.

McEwan explores in haunting and beautiful prose the complicated logic of time: the distorted time of panic, time as we experienced it in love in bereavement, and time as it is lived by children, for whom the present always seems infinite. Eloquent and passionate, the novel concludes in a triumphant scene of love and hope that gives full rein to the author’s remarkable gifts.


The Child in Time opens with a harrowing event. Stephen Lewis, a successful author of children’s books, takes his 3-year-old daughter on a routine Saturday morning trip to the supermarket. While waiting in line, his attention is distracted and his daughter is kidnapped. Just like that. From there, Lewis spirals into bereavement that has effects on his relationship with his wife, his psyche and time itself: “It was a wonder there could be so much movement, so much purpose, all the time. He himself had none.” This beautifully haunting book won a 1987 Whitbread Prize.

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