‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan – Another Day in Family Court

‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan   (2014) – 221 pages

 

      .

.

“I apologize for being so obvious, but every time I watch the curtain come down on even a halfway decent production of a Shakespeare play I feel a little sorrowful I will never know the man, or any man of such warm intelligence.” – Ian McEwan

 “You can spin stories out of the ways people understand and misunderstand each other.” – Ian McEwan

Fiona May in ‘The Children Act’ is a judge in the Family Division of the High Court in London.  Every workday she must decide complex emotional cases of divorce and custody of children, of terrible disagreements between two parents, and arguments about children’s medical treatment.  She has devoted her life to the law.  She is 59 years old, married, childless.

At the beginning of ‘The Children Act’, her husband Jack announces that since they haven’t made love for ‘seven weeks and a day’ he is leaving to embark on ‘one big passionate affair’ with a younger woman.  Fiona is most concerned that night about writing her decision for tomorrow morning’s custody case, but she does get the locks changed on their apartment so Jack can’t get back in the apartment without asking her.

“A professional life spent above the affray, advising, then judging, loftily commenting in private on the viciousness and absurdity of divorcing couples, and now she was down there with the rest, swimming with the desolate tide.”

There is one legal case that is the focal point of ‘The Children Act’.  A seventeen year old boy, Adam Henry, has leukemia, and his parents refuse to allow life-saving blood transfusions due to their religion as Jehovah’s Witnesses.    Adam himself goes along with his parents’ wishes even though this could result in his quick and early death.  Judge May must decide whether or not to override the boy and his parents’ refusal.   In order to make the right decision Fiona May decides she must visit the boy at the hospital.

“Adam’s unworldliness made him endearing, but vulnerable.  She was touched by his delicacy, by the way he stared fiercely at his sheet of paper, perhaps trying to hear in advance his poem through her ears.”

 I have been reading Ian McEwan since from the beginning of his fiction writing career.  I still have a special fondness for his early macabre disturbing novels and stories such as ‘The Cement Garden’ and ‘The Comfort of Strangers’, and have much enjoyed and admired his later works including ‘Atonement’ and ‘On Chesil Beach’.

In the new novel ‘The Children Act’,  judge Fiona May is a strong intelligent female protagonist.  Mc Ewan has pulled off that difficult feat for a man of writing from a female point of view.  Fiona May rings true as an exceedingly wise professional woman who must decide on critical issues and still deal with a wandering husband.

There are some nice musical touches with Fiona May singing to accompany Adam on the violin in the hospital and she harmonizing in the Christmas concert.

Perhaps I wished for a more interesting exciting court case for her to be involved in and rule on.  These instances of people refusing medical treatment for religious reasons were momentous new stories about a dozen or so years ago, but now they seem somewhat mundane and ordinary.

Despite its unexpected end, ‘The Children Act’ seemed a little too schematic and contrived.  It did not have the strong impact for me of Ian McEwan’s best work of which there is much.

Advertisements

13 responses to this post.

  1. I like McEwan too, and like you, especially his early works. That Cement Garden shocked me, it certainly was macabre! But I’ve also found him a little patchy lately: I thought Enduring Love was daft.
    I was surprised recently to see a very dismissive review of On Chesil Beach, by someone who missed the point entirely. I wish now that I had written a proper review of it instead of the shabby little summary on my blog, it’s such a beautiful thoughtful book!

    Like

    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      Novels like ‘The Cement Garden’, ‘Atonement’, and ‘On Chesil Beach’ overwelmed me, but this one did not. Still it held my interest throughout. McEwan has set the bar pretty high for himself.
      I was somewhat surprised to read that McEwan is very much an extrovert with a lot of close friends. Apparently his favorite activity is walking/hiking.

      Like

      Reply

      • LOL It surprises me to learn that any writer is an extrovert. Was it Xavier Herbert who hated having to hang out in pubs in order to hear the conversations of other people to use in his novels?

        Like

        Reply

  2. I was hoping he would find his form again after the disappointing Sweet Tooth and Saturday. Doesn’t seem to be the case here. As you say, the choice of case for the judge to rule upon seems rather obvious. Oh dear, I shall just have to reread his early backlist.

    Like

    Reply

    • I haven’t read Sweet Tooth – did you review it, Karen?

      Like

      Reply

      • I dipped into the copy I’d bought my husband who is also a McEwan fan. He thought it was fine, but not the usual standard. Based on what he told me and the parts I read I decided not to read the whole thing Lisa

        Like

        Reply

    • Hi Booker Talk,
      ‘On Chesil Beach’ (2007) was McEwan’s last real winner, but I keep coming back to his novels in the hopes of another great novel. ‘The Children Act’ is good, just doesn’t have that extra something that would make it an all-out success.

      Like

      Reply

  3. I’ve now read a few lacklustre reviews of The Children Act. Enduring Love is probably my favourite McEwan.

    Like

    Reply

  4. I enjoyed The Children Act, but the second half with its contrivance to get the ending didn’t excite as much. It felt like McEwan was getting a lot off his chest about his views on the legal system having been dragged through the courts himself over his own children when his marriage broke down. Whatever you think of the plot though, Fiona was an excellently written character – very wise, very sympathetic.

    Like

    Reply

    • Hi Annabel,
      Yes, I believe you are right, McEwan does a good job with the character Judge Fiona May. She comes across as a wise, sympathetic person. And McEwan does have some strong opinions about the legal system.
      I think that if McEwan had picked a more intriguing legal case for Fiona to decide, the novel could have been better.

      Like

      Reply

  5. Posted by yodcha on November 23, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    I received a review copy of this book. It was my first by the author. I thought the court cases were well done but I was overall disappointed and will not seek out more work by McEwan

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: