The Child in Time

by Ian McEwan

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 311

The Child in Time by Ian McEwan is a semi-autobiographical novel about a man named Stephen Lewis, an author of children's books, and his wife, Julie. The main story concerns the aftermath of their daughter Kate's kidnapping two years prior. When Kate was three years old, Stephen took her along with him to the supermarket. During a moment's distraction, she disappeared—having been kidnapped.

Ever since this incident, Stephen and Julie have been plunged into depression. Stephen finds some semblance of purpose in his role as a member of a child welfare committee, but, beyond that, his days are filled with nothing but drinking scotch on the sofa and watching television to pass the time. Julie has moved out of the house and is now completely reclusive, rarely visiting Stephen and preferring her cottage.

Stephen's only companionship now comes from his friend Charles Darke, a publisher. Charles has published his first novel and is now a junior Cabinet minister, holding the favor of the Prime Minister himself. Charles's wife, Thelma, is a quantum physicist and she speaks with Stephen about her theories of time and space. Thelma believes that time is fluid and unstructured—a "traveling story".

However, at some point, Charles abruptly resigns from his post as Cabinet minister and he and his wife move to the countryside. A few years later, Stephen learns that Charles has committed suicide. Around the same time, Stephen experiences a strange hallucination at a pub called The Bell; he sees his own parents as a young couple. It is heavily implied that Stephen has actually travelled back in time to the point when his mother was pregnant with him.

At the very end of the novel, Stephen receives a call from his estranged wife Julie. She informs him that she is going into labor with their child, suggesting a possible reconciliation between the two.

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