In this early novel, one couple’s tale of heart-wrenching loss is told against the backdrop of a seemingly benign but dystopic society. Children’s book author Stephen Lewis is at the supermarket with his three-year-old daughter Kate when she is snatched away. For months, he searches frantically for her while his wife, Julie, retreats into a cocoon of sorrow and despair. Unhinged by the loss, the two separate, and the rest of the novel traces Lewis’s moral struggle to resolve the issues of how to cope and whom to blame.
As he progresses and regresses, Lewis experiences time accelerating, slowing, stopping, disappearing and even, rather incredibly, reversing. Who is “the child in time” alluded to in the title? Kate, the kidnapped daughter, indisputably. But so, too, are Lewis, his friend Charles and all the nation’s children referenced in the chapter-opening quotes from the cryptic and mean-spirited “Authorized Child-Care Handbook” ostensibly being developed by a government committee on which the protagonist serves.
Although McEwan’s time-travel episodes are sometimes confusing, his language never fails to soar. The opening sequence which includes the kidnapping is exquisite in its understated simplicity. Later, he unfolds several other scenes that are equally poignant and memorable.
McEwan’s novel Amsterdam won the Booker Prize. Three others ─ Atonement, The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs ─ were shortlisted for the award.