The Child in Time by Ian McEwan
published 1987 chapter 1
Then she was before him, the standard-issue bowl held out before her. She had chosen him minutes ago, it was a trick they had. Appalled, he had reached into his back pocket for a five-pound note. She looked on with neutral expression as he set it down on top of the coins.
As soon as his hand was clear, the girl picked the note out, rolled it tight into her fist, and said, "Fuck you, mister." She was edging round him.
Stephen put his hand on the hard, narrow shoulder and gripped. "What was that you said?"
The girl turned and pulled away. The eyes had shrunk, the voice was reedy. "I said, Fank you, mister." She was out of reach when she added, "Rich creep!"
observations: Several years after it came out I bought The Child in Time, but was told by a friend ‘you absolutely can’t read that: you have young children, no-one with young children can read that book’ – in which a 3-year-old is abducted from a supermarket. But when I eventually dared, it left me cold. It’s well-written, it just about holds your interest, and it has something to say about a few different topics. But as with other McEwan books (with the exception of Enduring Love) you can see the workings too clearly. The themes, childhood and time, are hammered home – as in the above passage. The beggar girl will turn up again later in the book.
There are a few incidental pleasures – a (quite prescient) look at pre-Harry Potter children’s literature, a time when a ‘book club’ meant a commercial venture selling books by post, the man who thinks he is dying who dictates notes to a variety of loved ones. And the ghosts are quite spooky. But not a great book.
Links up with: The Little Princess is rich in this entry, but will end up poor, cold and hungry. Martha is out on the streets but not begging. This book is about searching for a lost girl.
The picture is of Alice Liddell, the model for Alice in Wonderland, dressed up as a beggar girl in rags for a photographic session with her friend Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. The image comes from Wikimedia Commons.