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Issue 32 - Dark Art

Whisky Magazine Issue 32
July 2003


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Dark Art

Jefferson Chase examines Ian McEwan's use of whisky as emotional crutch in his novel The Child in Time

Ian McEwan is not only one of Britain's most highly lauded contemporary writers, but the one most fascinated by horrific, perverse scenarios. So I can't help imagining that he was listening to The Clash's London Calling, specifically the song Lost in the Supermarket, when he came up with the idea for his 1987 breakthrough novel.

The Child in Time is about a children's books writer, Stephan Lewis, whose three year- old daughter mysteriously disappears while out shopping with him.

The plot is every parent's nightmare, and in typically uncompromising McEwan fashion, the child is never found, and the mystery never solved. This leaves the hero bereaved – and unable to grieve.

It may have been the freakishly good summer, or the Scotch he drank heavily from late morning on, which made him feel better than he knew he really was, but Stephan honestly did not mind that life on earth was to continue.

A lesser writer would have plunged the protagonist into dramatic despair, self recrimination or rage. What McEwan describes is post-trauma lethargy. The glass of neat Scotch Stephan Lewis repeatedly sips while watching game shows is both an expression of helpless bewilderment and an attempt at consolation. Alcohol is here, as so often in real life, as a kind of protective cocoon.

Not even growing estrangement from his wife can force the unhappy hero to reengage with the world before he's ready.

There was nothing to be shared. Julie had lost weight and cut her hair short, She was rea...

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