The Child in Time

by Ian McEwan

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Ian McEwan's The Child in Time is a psychological thriller and a somber story about a man who is distraught and searching for his lost daughter, Kate, who was kidnapped years earlier. The novel follows Stephen as he lives a somber, heartbroken, and desolate life and describes his scant interactions with his estranged wife and several of their friends.

Seeking Understanding

Stephen has experienced a terrible trauma and he wishes to undo it. The main thing he's hoping for, however, is assurance. He wishes he could go back in time and ensure that his daughter won't be taken—or at least wishes he could be sure of her safety afterwards. Throughout the novel, characters are constantly looking for assurance and understanding, but they can't find it.

The Nature of Time

Stephen frequently spends time in the novel discussing the nature of time and space with his friends Charles and Thelma, the latter of whom is an quantum physicist. Stephen desperately wishes, without true hope, that he could travel backwards in time and make changes to the past. Thelma's ideas of space-time are in a sense encouraging, but also wildly outlandish—to the point of everyone dismissing them out of hand.

Late in the novel, however, Stephen has a strange experience in which he sees his parents as a young, unmarried couple years before his own birth. This vision makes him question the nature of time and wonder if there is anything he can do to save his daughter.

Parental Love

Stephen and his wife are both brokenhearted, and it is entirely because of the depth of love they have for their lost daughter. They wish to find her and bring her back or to reverse the circumstances that led to her disappearance, but they can't do anything about it. Their love for Kate eventually separates them because they are both too heartbroken to connect with one another, and they can't get over the guilt they feel surrounding the incident. The story asserts that, if it were possible, a parent would cross time and space to reunite with their child.

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