Book Review: The Child in Time by Ian McEwan

“Stephen ran memories and daydreams, what was and what might have been. Or were they running him?”

Ian McEwan, The Child in Time

Title: The Child in Time
Author: Ian McEwan
Genres: Literary, Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 263 (Paperback)
Published: 1987

My Rating: ★★★★★
Read: 11/20/2022 – 11/30/2022


This is the second book I’ve read recently that I was made aware of from the movie adaptation. Though this book is a rare case where I like the movie better, I still enjoyed the book immensely.

There are a few plot lines that make up the book. First and foremost is the disappearance of Stephen’s daughter years prior. He’s haunted by her memory, certain that one day he will find her. With this comes the separation from his wife, Julie, who has moved into seclusion to grieve in her own way. Stephen misses her and wants to reconcile though finds it a lost cause. Meanwhile, he carries on in his professional life the best he can. On this end, he must deal with the mental decline of his friend and publisher, Charles. 

As the title suggests, the book ponders the perceptions of childhood and time and how those two things intermingle. Ian McEwan writes solely from Stephen’s POV allowing a deeply introspective narrative. To a modern audience, the prose may border on cliche or is an outdated style. I personally enjoyed this, especially because Stephen is blunt in his selfishness and observations. Above else, I enjoyed the psychology behind the characters and the emphasis on how people experience grief in different ways — even between people with a shared trauma.

Likes & Dislikes:

What I liked:

  • The contemplation of how time fluctuates. So few of us are able to fully live in the given moment we are physically experiencing. There are memories and thoughts of the future. We change with those thoughts, especially when there is some form of trauma we have experienced.
  • Charles’ story. Though it took me a while to appreciate his purpose in the book, he was a fascinating character study.
  • The dynamic between Julie and Stephen. There’s bitterness there as well as love.
  • The rawness and emotion of the prose.

What I didn’t like:

  • There were some random scenes that while they fit into the theme of the book, had little to no bearing on the plot itself.
  • Too many plot points for a short book. Like I just said, everything written ultimately tied into the themes of time and childhood, but these random moments made the book drag in places.
  • I found the parliament and prime minister plotline boring.


I think this broke my record for most highlights/tabs in a book. I ended up with a book hangover despite trying to drag out the reading as much as possible.

I mentioned liking the movie more than the book. I feel like the story flows better on film than it does in the book largely in part of the way Stephen and Julie’s relationship is portrayed in the script. The movie can probably be considered more of a romance, though some of the other plot points are also shown. Both the book and the movie are fantastic in my opinion. Watching and reading back to back has ingrained the story in my mind.

This was a difficult review to write because there is so much more I would love to go into. I think it’s time to consider adding a spoiler tag to this blog…

(Side note, I wasn’t sure how to categorize this because while it mostly reads as a contemporary story (which is was in its original publication), there are some key factors that might make one consider it to be historical, such as the absence of cell phones, modern-day surveillance, and how kidnappings might be handled differently. When in doubt, I choose both.)

Where to buy the book:

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