I had to read this book. Why? Because
- I am a lawyer and am fascinated first by the title then its subject matter
- I enjoy Ian McEwan’s writing
- I am intrigued by the female protagonist, Fiona, a judge and a woman of a certain age
And the book delivered more than I had expected.
Title: The Children Act
Author: Ian McEwan
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House, London ( September 2, 2014)
Pages: Hardback, 213 pages
What’s it about?
“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.”
First, the title “The Children Act” refers to a piece of legislation in the UK which, in general, seeks to regulate local authorities and governmental entities in dealing with intervention in the interests of children.
Second, the protagonist, Fiona, is a female High Court judge, approaching the end of her sixth decade of life and potentially of her near 30 year old marriage.
Third, the child concerned, Adam, is an almost, but not yet, 18 year old male born and bred within the faith of Jehovah Witness.
In this relatively short book, Ian McEwan has woven a tale filled with conflicts and dilemmas.
“…Didn’t you once tell me that couples in long marriages aspire to the condition of siblings? We’ve arrived, Fiona. I’ve become your brother. It’s cosy and sweet and I love you, but before I drop dead, I want one big passionate affair.”
With this statement, Fiona’s marriage fractures. And soon after, she is confronted with the legal case involving Adam.
As Fiona struggles with the emotional upheaval, she is disturbed by the potential cliché of her marriage breakdown – that she, a highly intelligent woman with immense self-control, is nevertheless just a woman and susceptible to thoughts and actions, reminiscent of the parody of a woman ‘rejected’. The irony is the readers’ attention is also brought to the clichéd of Fiona’s life as a successful female judge – the cold, analytical, always busy, cultured and sophisticated childless woman. While this accomplished woman is reasonable and wise, she is also plagued by loneliness and shame. McEwan handles these conflicts with a deft hand, inviting much contemplation.
With the internal conflict of rediscovering a ‘new’ identity, Fiona is confronted with questions which cause me to lay the book down and ponder and wonder. This, for me, is the hallmark of a good book.
Who has the right to determine the life of an almost adult? The child’s parents, the religious elders, the medical profession, the law, a judge…the almost adult himself?
Is it ultimately about rights?
What is ‘evident’ truth? Is anything ever ‘evident’?
Is there such a thing as ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’? Can an act, such as Fiona’s decision, change the course of a life? Or does her later action reinforce the inevitability of destiny?
What is faith? What does it mean to the faith-ful? Who has the right to ‘remove’ someone’s faith, the meaning to a life? What is the consequence when no substitute is found for this faith?
“Without faith, how open and beautiful and terrifying the world must have seemed to him…. she offered nothing in religion’s place, no protection, even though the Act was clear, her paramount consideration was his welfare… Welfare, well-being, was social.”
McEwan’s narrative is riveting, by the ability to convey so much with so few words. In essence, McEwan did not arrive at a triumph of science or the humanist perspective. Rather, the book highlights the fragility of human life, and how careful we must be to interfere with another’s well-ordered life.
A must-read, in my book :-).
Realistic Characterization: 4/5
Made Me Think: 4/5
Overall enjoyment: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
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