Worth A Read: The Children Act, by Ian McEwan

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The BUZZ: Latest novel by Jerusalem Prize-winner and author of Atonement

The GIST: Fiona Maye is a devoted, accomplished London barrister. She presides over family law cases that center on The Children Act which provides protection and welfare for British minors.The story begins after her husband of thirty years, a University professor, proposes open marriage. Because of the cold state of their relationship, he’s surprised by her indignation and heartache. At work, she buries herself in the case of a seventeen year-old Jehovah’s Witness named Adam, who is fighting the hospital’s appeal that he should be forced to have a life-saving blood transfusion. His religion forbids it, and because he is a minor, the case has landed in her court. Without this treatment for his leukemia, he will suffer and die. As Fiona slogs through the elements of the case, she reviews how her once-healthy marriage has fallen apart. Her anguish over her childlessness and catastrophic personal life is alleviated by the focus required at work. This is a pattern she begins to see clearly, an enlightenment that might help repair her marriage. Religion and culture collide here as well, alongside questions regarding personal freedoms and the right to determine one’s own fate.

The WRITING: Fascinating social commentary. McEwan is a talented choreographer of his characters’ messy lives. In a simplistic storyline, he combines just the right amount of suspense and ethical dilemma. On one hand his writing is clinical with obvious diligence to research of systems (law and medicine). At times, this can be a little dry. On the other, he completes empathic character studies. The balance works well here if you can be patient with the go- between. The characters struggle through conflicts with real human frailties. Resolutions are never neat and tidy, but plainly promote the author’s steadfast secularism. Fiona’s and Adam’s relationship is poignant on many levels, and McEwan uses it to shed light on Fiona’s beliefs, some of which have led to the implosion of her personal life. As in his other novels, the reader is forced to reflect on how our lives are shaped by events, but that’s only part of the equation. Our internal judgments and personal choices carry more weight than we wish to admit.

BUY OR BORROW: Borrow. I’m a McEwan fan – Atonement is a favorite I own and reread occasionally. This one is almost as good, but not as impactful. 

“At her elbow was a slim pile of creamy white paper beside which she laid down her pen. It was only then, at the sight of these clean sheets, that the last traces, the stain, of her own situation vanished completely. She no longer had a private life, she was ready to be absorbed.”

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