Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The child in time

I'm intrigued as to why you wanted us to join you in reading this, Val. What was prompting you to ask? And what makes you keen to re-read? I'd be very interested in hearing about its depths, since I'm afraid I read this in a very non-ideal way. You're quite right, of course, that the child abduction is not too major as a theme, but I was unable to read about the topic, however briefly, in the tantalising way McEwan was proposing. So I found the abduction and read that, then went to the beginning and started properly, but found it too upsetting to deal with so went to the end to see if it was going to go somewhere I could bear to go to. Which I could. I then skimmed the whole thing. Sorry - I know he deserves better, but it's skim or not read at all at the moment, and I'd rather not miss out on the shared reading experience since I'd decided by this point that the book was good but it wouldn't be a traversty to skim it.

Anyway. After that lengthly apology, I thought... The novel was well-written but, as with Atonement, I found it somehow a bit unengaging, even when it was upsetting me. The characters didn't seem very real and I think I was missing some Themes (probably because I was skimming). What's the book "about" since it clearly isn't really about child abduction? Unusually for me, I found it a bit glib with its ending, although I couldn't have coped with anything darker. Stephen seems convinced Kate has been abducted as a kind of forced adoption. This is scarcely statistically likely, is it? I can see why he has to be convinced of this - the alternative is too awful to deal with - but surely if that sort of thing happens to you then you do have, somehow, to grapple with stuff that is beyond awful. I don't want to read about that, but I wonder if it's really plausible for it not to even cross Stephen's mind that we hear of. He's behaving like a man (I guess) who has been deprived of his daughter, but as if she'd had a tragic but painless death, or removal to a happy alternative home. He suffers, but he doesn't seem to worry that she might have suffered. The first two options above would be awful for a parent, of course, but they're still a world away from the third alternative scenario of what happened to her, aren't they? Do you think such things have crossed his mind? What do you you think happened to Kate? What do you think of the ending? I don't really know what I think. I'll be very grateful for other thoughts!

On reflection, I wonder if some of my queries might be answered by arguing that Kate is in the book more as a symbol than as a child. Is McEwan dealing with "themes" more than individuals? Is what he's saying about childhood - whatever he's saying about it - his main concern? Is that why I found the characters a bit oddly unreal and conceptual rather than living, breathing 3D characters? Could that be why McEwan hasn't bothered to think what thoughts Stephen might be torturing himself with after Kate's abduction? Because HE, Ian McEwan, hasn't been dwelling on them so either it hasn't occurred to him that Stephen should be, or that as a novelist his concerns are elsewhere, so he's deliberately concentrated on his themes rather than the (more predictable) things you'd think of if your child was snatched.