The Children Act – Ian McEwan

Published April 8, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A fiercely intelligent, well-respected High Court judge in London faces a morally ambiguous case while her own marriage crumbles in a novel that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts.

But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Jack doesn’t leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case – as well as her crumbling marriage – tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

What did I think?:

I’ve had a bit of a strange relationship with Ian McEwan as a writer. One of my all time favourite books is the gorgeous Atonement (which I’m just about to re-read) but other books that I’ve read by him before I started blogging have left me rather dissatisfied – for example, Saturday and Solar, both of which left me wondering what all the fuss was about. How did The Children Act measure up? Well, it sits itself quite firmly somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of Atonement but was certainly interesting enough to keep me turning the pages and is a relatively short read at a mere 240 pages. I had some small issues with the characters and the narrative which I’ll go into a bit later but generally, I had a fairly enjoyable experience when reading it.

This is the story of Fiona Maye, a well respected High Court judge who comes up against traumatic circumstances in both her personal and professional life. At home, her husband has just asked her permission to have an affair (whilst continuing to be married to her) and understandably, Fiona has reacted badly to his suggestion leaving their relationship on very fragile territory. At work, she is about to become embroiled in one of the toughest cases of her career when a seventeen year old boy who is critically ill with leukaemia steadfastly refuses to have a blood transfusion that will save his life on the grounds that he is a Jehovah’s Witness and it is against his beliefs. Fiona becomes quite personally invested in Adam’s story as she fights to get a High Court order insisting that his wishes should be over-ruled on account of his being under eighteen. Alongside the stress of her job, her marriage is disintegrating before her eyes and Fiona must decide whether she wants to save her relationship with her husband, Jack as well as Adam’s life.

Personally, I found this novel to have both good and bad parts and even now, I’m struggling to decide on an overall rating. I did find the story fascinating and was intrigued enough as to care about how it was all going to work out for each individual character however I don’t feel there was anything particularly unique within the plot. In other words, I do feel like this story has been played out before by other authors so there was nothing too novel that really shocked me or completely captured my attention. I enjoyed how the author chose to tell The Children Act from the point of view of a woman, and a high powered one at that (thumbs up, Ian McEwan) however, I worry that sometimes she didn’t come across in the best light and left me feeling slightly cold. She was obviously a strong, independent woman and I just wish that she had made firm decisions regarding her marriage and her work that reflected all that strength. Finally, I did feel that Ian McEwan was taking a bit of a pop at religion which didn’t sit well with me. I’m not particularly religious and certainly don’t enjoy being preached at, nevertheless I respect that other people have beliefs and ideals, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them myself.

You might think with all this criticism I didn’t rate this novel at all! However, I did honestly enjoy what the author did in such a brief narrative. The courtroom scenes were particularly fascinating and kept me gripped. I did find parts of it problematic of course, but if I compare it to other novels that I’ve read so far (save for Atonement which is all kinds of wonderful!) I do rate this higher. There is no denying that the author can write beautifully and he does know how to spin a good yarn that I’m certain other people will be fawning over much more than myself.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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4 comments on “The Children Act – Ian McEwan

  • Okay, I need to read Atonement. I have had that book on shelf for ages. Your love of it has definitely convinced me to get to it soon. This sounds interesting due to the courtroom drama especially. Sorry to hear that it didn’t quite deliver though.

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