The Child in Time
The Child in Time is a remarkable book, one which balances social criticism and satire with a sad, compassionate story of loss and redemption. Stephen Lewis, the protagonist, is a successful writer of children’s books, an occupation he assumes almost by accident. As a young man without purpose, he at first decides to write a novel to be entitled “Hashish,” “about hippies stabbed to death in their sleeping bags, a nicely brought-up girl sentenced to a lifetime in a Turkish jail, mystic pretentiousness, drug-enhanced sex, amoebic dysentery.” Instead, he writes Lemonade, a novel derived from his experiences as an eleven-year-old in the company of two girl cousins. This book is seized by Charles Darke, a young publisher who tells Stephen that it is brilliant because, like the best children’s stories, it “spoke to both children and adults, to the incipient adult within the child, to the forgotten child within the adult.” Stephen is very soon both wealthy and famous; he and his wife, Julie, are friends of Charles and Thelma Darke, a professor of physics, and enjoy the benefits of the socially privileged in England.
The Lewises’ lives are devastated, however, several years later when Stephen takes their three-year-old daughter, Kate, with him to the supermarket one morning while Julie sleeps. There Kate simply disappears as they stand together in the check-out line, magically removed in the blink of an eye, snatched away in an instant of inattention. For months, Stephen searches for his lost daughter, posts bulletins, follows leads, and wanders the streets looking at faces, convincing himself that these actions give order to the chaos his world has become. Finally, however, his movement ceases, and he gives himself over to his grief, withdrawing into an alcoholic attenuation of purpose.
Two years later, Stephen lives alone in his London flat, Julie having moved to the countryside to confront her own grief. Stephen has been appointed to the Subcommittee on Reading and Writing, a part of the Prime Minister’s Official Commission on Child Care. The commission has been given the task of creating An Authorized Child-Care Handbook for the government. Stephen is involved in this undertaking, in part because of the influence of Charles Darke. Darke had left the publishing business to become a member of Parliament, but after several years of increasing influence and growing promise, he has abruptly and mysteriously resigned, leaving London with his wife Thelma for a life of seclusion. Stephen cares nothing about the commission and spends his time there dreaming, sleeping, or thinking of Kate who, in his mind, continues to exist, to grow.
During this year, several events occur which change Stephen’s life. On a rare visit to Julie’s cottage, he experiences an almost mystical out-of-time moment. Walking through the wet countryside, he comes to a tavern, The Bell, and looking within he sees a young couple engaged in serious conversation. The girl looks at him through the window, but it is as if she sees him and sees through him at the same time. Stephen recognizes this couple as his parents. Later, in talking with his mother, he learns that she and his father had indeed had such a conversation before they were married, although she was then pregnant with Stephen. The question Stephen watches them discuss is whether to abort the unexpected child. According to his mother, it was the sight of a child’s face—Stephen’s face lost in time—at the window of the pub which resulted in her decision not to undertake the abortion.
Other events occur. Stephen receives a rather urgent invitation from Thelma...
(The entire section is 1502 words.)