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The Child in Time by Ian McEwan: My take on the book #book2movies #review

It’s time! Easter and April Fool’s are both just two days away, as is The Child in Time starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly McDonald. Based on the book by Ian McEwan, the BBC film premieres on Masterpiece Theater this Sunday as well. Here’s my take on the book.

The opening pages of The Child in Time are written in Ian McEwan’s often lean style, setting out an ordinary world, a daddy taking his small child, a three year old girl named Kate to the grocery store. The ordinariness of his language—never flowery, always deeply evocative—fits with the ordinariness of the day when a simple errand turns horrifyingly into the worst day, what will become a recurring nightmare, of his life. The child Kate, is stolen, leaving her parents, Stephen an accidental writer of children’s books and Julie, a classical musician, bereft and broken.

I read the novel, as I often do, because I knew a television show was coming. As good a guide as any, in my opinion, in answer to the age old book lover’s question, what should I read next?

Having seen the ads for the series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly MacDonald, I knew gut wrenching tears were coming as Stephen & Julie go quite mad with grief. Knowing what to expect ahead of time, I could steel myself so that the theme—the loss of a child—wouldn’t be too bleak, especially for a parent, to bear. 

What surprised me about the book, written in 1987, was the semi-dystopia McEwan created—beggars are licensed, given out badges, allowed to beg here but not there—amidst a world which otherwise, despite a worsening of climate change, feels mostly like our own. Despite my love for McEwan, I still don't quite know that he pulled it off, whatever statement it was, he was trying to make. The story of the stolen child, the damaged marriage, the troubled friend,  didn’t seem to require or benefit from being set in a somewhat frightening futuristic time period. 

I like McEwan for his insights into the human mind and heart, the way we double talk and sabotage ourselves, the way loss leaves such a deep imprint. I’m not sure how much of that will be present in the The Child in Time coming to Masterpiece Theater on April 1. They advertise it as a “heart-breaking exploration of love, loss and the power of things unseen.’’ 

The intention, at least, seems clear.

Would I recommend the book? Not really but the novel won the Whitbread prize and Christopher Hitchens called it McEwan’s masterpiece, so what do I know.

Let’s watch the trailer, although to be honest, The Child in Time hasn’t exactly knocked the TV critics socks off. But it’s Cumberbatch so I imagine I’ll be watching it anyway.

Have you read the book? What did you think? 
Will you be watching the show?
Fellow followers of Joy’s British Isles Friday