Fiona Maye is a judge for the High Court of London, dealing with cases that pertain to family issues. Her home life is in shambles, after her husband drops an unexpected bomb on Fiona, and she focuses on her work in order to avoid thinking about it. When a case comes Fiona’s way involving a provocative Jehovah’s Witness, a seventeen-year-old boy named Adam who is refusing a blood transfusion that could save his life, she finds herself more involved than she should be, and she wrestles with her conscience trying to do the right thing.
A gorgeous novel, The Children Act combines thought-provoking issues with emotionally resonant characters; it’s McEwan’s best book in a long time.
Oh, Ian McEwan. I could write an entire ode to how and why I love your novels, even the ones that aren’t so good (Solar). But there’s a time and a place for everything, and right now I’m not trying to discuss why I love Ian McEwan, but instead, what The Children Act did for me. And I will say it did something profound: It reminded me why I love Ian McEwan. It’s a slip of a book, to be sure, but it’s thoughtful and moving and really is his best novel in years. If you haven’t picked up a McEwan novel and don’t know where to start, do it with this book.
Fiona is an interesting character in The Children Act. For someone with a job that requires her to be decisive, she’s quite the indecisive person. When her husband gives her his news, Fiona’s reaction is to shut down and not face the problem head on. Instead, she buries herself in work, but even there, she has trouble making decisions. It doesn’t help that the situation surrounding Adam’s case is so complicated. Adam is an interesting counterpoint to Fiona, someone who is absolutely sure of himself. He’s so young, but so righteous. He has no doubts he’s making the right decision by refusing medical care, whereas Fiona is filled with nothing but doubt, unsure of herself on any front. It’s doubly interesting because the reader gets the sense that Fiona wasn’t always like this; her domestic issues have thrown her off balance completely.
The Children Act is a short book; the reader is dropped into Fiona’s life, stays for a short time, and then departs, leaving Fiona to live the rest of her life. McEwan brings these characters to life fully and completely; they exist in real life as much as they exist on the page. The issues McEwan grapples with are also complex; should a person be forced to have a blood transfusion they don’t want if doctors are certain it will save his life? Is Adam being influenced by his parents or his religious community, or is his decision his own? Does he even have the right to make that decision, given that he’s a minor? It’s a fascinating debate, and McEwan shows the reader the different sides of it through Fiona and her research.
One of the best things about The Children Act is its length. Don’t get me wrong, I like long books. But sometimes, you just want that breath of fresh air, the slip of a book that will affect you profoundly and leave you shattered. This is absolutely that novel; it’s provocative and will make you think, but it won’t take weeks to read. It’s amazing what McEwan did with so few pages, and I absolutely recommend this book to both longtime fans and those new to his work.
Other books by Ian McEwan: