The typical McEwan tale begins with some earth-shattering event; the novel is then devoted to chronicling the consequences that ripple out from this. In the same way, the hero's daughter (writer of children's fiction Stephen Lewis) is stolen from a supermarket. McEwan charts the bereavement of the young parents as it destroys their relationship and their lives.
But for once McEwan has sub-plots. Why has successful Charles Darke, Stephen's publisher and best friend, suddenly left a promising ministerial career? What is the point of the subcommittee of the Official Commission on Childcare on which Stephen sits?And how did Stephen see into the past when he looked through a pub window to see his parents thirty years ago?
The book, set in a dystopian near future, attempts to portray childhood from a number of perspectives and plays with the perception of time. An adult acting like a schoolboy climbs a tree. School is an exercise in pointless regimentation. The Official Commission hears crackpot views about learning to read. Stephen buys toys for his missing child's birthday. Thelma, wife and maybe mother figure to Charles Darke, tries to explain to Stephen a modern Physics perspective on time.
I struggled to find a unifying sense to all this. Was it a retelling of the Faust legend, seen from outside the bedevilled doctor? Charles Darke (is there a clue in his name?) acquires riches, then power, then seemingly everlasting youth. Or is there a theme of everything sliding from organisation into chaos (the entropic direction for the arrow of time)? The loss of his daughter drives Stephen from a stable life to a whisky soaked squalor. There are licensed beggars on the streets. The weather is becoming worse, floods succeeding droughts. Stephen drives from gridlocked London to a forested countryside; gates are hidden by tangles of jungle. On one journey a lorry crashes. But just when things seem to have utterly disintegrated, order slowly returns. The spat at the Olympics nearly develops into nuclear war but doesn't and the Olympics continue. The lorry driver emerges from his wrecked vehicle more or less unhurt. Stephen begins to study classical Arabic and tennis as his life gets back on track.Is this another theme? Although entropy seems to increase there are localised areas in which order prevails? And death is followed by birth.
I was confused by the plot but the prose is luscious. September 2012; 220 pages
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57