Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 449
Ian McEwan's novel The Child in Time follows a man who has had his only child kidnapped. He is living with the regret and pain from that event, riddled with self-destructive guilt while the rest of his life has fallen into turmoil. His wife has turned into a recluse and has fled from their shared home, and he has turned to alcoholism to drown out his sorrow and pain. It is only the hope in something bordering on supernatural that spurs him on in the midst of his pain.
This was his one commitment in a life otherwise free of obligations. Much of this freedom he spent in his underwear . . . moodily sipping Scotch
Stephen's life after the loss of his daughter is encapsulated in this quote. He has little hope or joy in his life and far too much free time. His time is consumed either with being half-engaged in the Committee for Childcare of which he's a part of or by sitting in his house—depressed, distraught, and drunk. Even his wife has left, isolating herself in her own depressive state and refusing to speak to anyone. Stephen carries a burden of personal guilt because he was in charge of their child when she was kidnapped, and this adds to his depression.
Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past.
Stephen's discussions with quantum physicist Thelma often turn towards the nature of time. After seeing a seemingly impossible vision of his parents in their youth at a pub, Stephen begins considering the concept of "seeing through time" in hopes of perhaps figuring out what happened to his daughter. Thelma—ever the optimist (and even more so the physicist)—entertains his fancy with ideas of time travel and branching realities.
And while they could never redeem the loss of their daughter, they would love her through their new child, and never close their minds to the possibility of her return.
What is interesting in families with lost children is that, typically, the parents will separate more often than not unless they have another child. If you ask any of them, they will firmly explain that while the child in no way replaces the one they lost, a new child helps them direct their love and gives them and their partner a goal and a focus to divert them from the pain and sadness. Though there is no resolution to the mystery of what happened to Stephen and Julie's daughter, Kate, and they are not magically healed, they are reunited. This new child brings them back together and, at the very least, helps them find some comfort after their trauma.