With none of his previous delight in things macabre, McEwan sets a story of domestic horror against a disorienting exploration in time, and ends up with a work of remarkable intellectual and political sophistication--his most expansive and passionate fiction to date. The time of the novel is an era not so unlike our own; the licensed beggars working the London streets are a product of post-Thatcher extremism--a period of even further privatization and more brutal self-interest. Stephen Lewis, once a countercultural type, then a successful children's book author, now sleepwalks through the neo-Hobbesian landscape. Having had his three-year, old daughter stolen in the supermarket, he's also lost his wife, Julie, a violinist who shares a "perverse collusion in unhappiness" with her guilt-ridden spouse. The only interruption in his routine of booze and the boob-tube is his weekly committee meetings at Whitehall on Reading and Writing subcommittee of the Official Commission on Child Care. Stephen's friend and former publisher, Charles Drake, a self-made millionaire and rightist M.P., is being groomed for greater things by the P.M. But after appointing Stephen to the Commission, Charles abandons politics in pursuit of the childhood he never had. While his wife, a former professor, writes about the physics of time, Charles--now "completely mad"--retreats into his life-threatening treehouse. Stephen meanwhile wanders in and out of time, reliving that tragic day at the market, recalling his own childhood as an RAF brat, and experiencing in the present a number of infantilizing episodes. Once he realizes, though, that "all the sorrow. . .had been enclosed within meaningful time, within the richest unfolding conceivable," he recovers from his political quiescence, his creative doldrums, and, most importantly, the numbness which delayed mourning. With spiritual rebirth comes a literal birth--Julie and Stephen's, and McEwan's, quiet affirmation of life. Though intensely cinematic, this subtle and complex novel would require a director of like narrative daring and imaginative genius.