For me, this book is absolutely not about child abduction – if it was I would neither have been able to read it nor, of course, chosen it. All the questions Emily asks have everything to do with the child-abduction-book-we-wouldn’t-read and nothing to do with this. For as she says ‘Later’, it is about themes – he is playing with the title, I think, and interpreting it in different ways eg: the HMSO publication, returning to a past ‘golden age’; Stephen seeing his parents before he was conceived (having read my father’s letter to my mother wondering if they ought to call off their courtship, I can tell you this is quite powerful!); Charles regressing to boyhood. Kate’s abduction is a typically powerful McEwan set-piece (cf the hot air balloon in Enduring Love) but it’s role in the story is to kick start it and to throw Julie and Stephen’s time into chaos and jeopardy.
I thought it was/is brilliant because of the gripping storytelling, the use of language and imagery; the intellectual puzzles he sets and the way he teases you. How long did it take you all to realise we were in a dystopian future world? I noted the first reference to armed police with irritation as I thought he’d slipped up and not explained why they were armed (should have known better!); the licensed beggars, when first they appeared, again I noticed but didn’t twig properly. It wasn’t until the coniferous plantations first appeared that I knew something was up (now, what does that say about me?). So one reason for re-reading will be to watch out for them. I’m not sure it really needs the futurism, except perhaps in Stephen’s committee work, so I think this is just a bonus strand, but one that works providing a menacing undertone, rather than irritates. Another reason to reread is to really find all the links to the title, and how he is working through that. And finally, just because it was such a joy and I’ve read rather too many books which I’m glad to reach the end of just recently.
I thought the ending, with Julie’s pregnancy, was just right and I had no idea it was coming, even though it was signposted and entirely plausible. Missing something like that is not like me, so I’m not sure if it is down to McEwan’s skill or my dullness. But one thing I couldn’t understand is the significance of the lorry accident. Can anyone help?
Emily – I suggest you forget about this for a decade and then try it again afresh. So sorry if it caused you distress. I wonder how any of your top 10 books would have survived the treatment you gave this.