ADVANTAGES

The landscape in his latest novel, ''The Child in Time,'' is also chilly and disturbing. The time, it appears, is the near future: a fight between a Soviet and an American athlete at the recent Olympics has nearly escalated into nuclear war; and in Great Britain, a neo-Thatcher Government has made all sorts of cutbacks, defining its mandate simply ''to keep order, and to defend the state against its enemies.'' Licensed beggars roam the streets of London while former highbrows of the 1960's, having traded their high spirits and idealism for survival, work at cleaning hospital floors and driving taxis. In many respects, Mr. McEwan's London seems like another version of Baudelaire and Eliot's ''unreal city'' - a city of sleepwalking clerks and unhappy loners, traffic jams and faceless crowds.

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