The Children Act
By: Ian McEwan
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge, presiding over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now, her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.
At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: for religious reasons, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, Adam, is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents share his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely held faith? In the course of reaching a decision Fiona visits Adam in hospital – an encounter which stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.
(Grr, a bit of backstory: I typed up a wonderful review to this novel and then my laptop decided to shut down on me without politely giving me the heads up. Not cool, laptop, not cool. Let’s see how much I recall from this)
I admit, I was sort of debating whether or not to check out this novel. On the one hand, I love Ian McEwan’s writing; Atonement (review) is one of my favourite novels of all time. But on the other hand, the last few books I read by him were rather lacklustre IMO. Nonetheless I eventually caved and decided to pick up this novel 😛
Well, I’m glad that I picked up this novel. The story really grabbed my attention from the first page: Ian McEwan not only has a way of drawing readers into the story, but he also painted quite the picture of its protagonist, Fiona May, and had me intrigued about her from the very start. On a related note, it also made me really detest her husband, Jack, from almost the get-go: I found his reasoning for doing what he did and upsetting the tranquility of their marriage rather ridiculous. Sure, Fiona was going through her own bit as well, with things that she can’t quite express or communicate to her husband, but still, his reasoning for doing what he did/wanted to do was pure selfishness. I was still side-eying him right up to the very end *shrugs*
But going back to Fiona, I thought she was a fascinating character, successful in her own right as a leading High Court judge, brilliant in her handling of cases, of how she takes the arguments from both sides and makes her decisions based on her knowledge of the law. She’s very contained, very calm, but I love those little bits of additional information about her–her hobbies then (and now), bits of history that showed moments of unruliness, cases that had profoundly upset her–because he fleshes her out a bit more, makes her more human and well-rounded a character and flawed beyond her reputation and her career. Nonetheless I especially enjoyed the first half of the novel and just observing her work (the law can be interesting!)
The case itself–of a boy refusing medical treatment on religious grounds–is a highly contentious topic in the public forum that will have readers thinking about their own opinions on the matter and their own beliefs. And it was interesting to read Fiona wade through the arguments from both sides, meet Adam, and come to her own decision on the matter. From there, however, this storyline sort of fades into the background, lingering, but never quite forefront again despite it weaving in and out of the narrative, that by the story hits the climax, it doesn’t quite hit you like in Atonement or Amsterdam (review). Again, I think it would’ve helped the novel if it had been a bit longer to set the pieces up a bit more, or explain it more, or…something more.
Despite of this, I really enjoyed reading The Children Act if really for the character of Fiona Maye and the character dilemma that she went through. The law aspects of the novel was also really interesting but the story itself didn’t quite pack the punch as some of Ian McEwan’s novels, probably because of the length of this novel. Nonetheless I would recommend checking this novel out if you’re looking for a literary title to check out 🙂 (And now I look forward to reading his latest, Nutshell, at some point…soon).