Monday, September 28, 2015

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

There is something about the English sensibility that resonates with me, and I think it is their capacity to view themselves and life so impassively. Rather than feverishly defining the emotions of the moment, English writers tend to tell the story, letting the reader draw their own conclusions.  And no one does it better than Ian McEwan (pictured).

You probably know Ian McEwan as the author of Atonement, which was made into a major motion picture staring Keira Knightly and James McAvoy – one of the very few book-to-movies I liked better than the book. And although I haven’t read all his books, some I didn’t like, Atonement and On Chesil Beach, and some I really did love, Saturday, and the topic of this review, The Children Act.

The main character of this book, 59-year-old Fiona Maye, has achieved so much. She is a British High Court judge, and an accomplished pianist, but as is so often the case, what we see of people’s outward lives looks nothing like that of their secret, personal life. And such is the case with Fiona.

Having achieved her greatest professional ambitions, Fiona achingly realizes in so doing she has sped by the opportunity to be a mother. Simultaneously her seemingly comfortable marriage of 30 years is split apart when her husband announces he wants to have an affair “while he still can”.

As if this isn’t enough to dismantle Fiona, she becomes inappropriately involved in one of the most controversial cases ever brought before her court. She must decide if leukemia patient Adam Henry should be forced under British Law (The Children Act) to undergo a blood transfusion to save his life. His parents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, are refusing treatment and Adam is underage. Altered by her realization of lost opportunities, Fiona steps outside normal legal procedure with a surreptitious visit to Adam’s hospital room to see for herself if Adam understands the consequences of his parents'  decision. That convergence sets off a chain of events we see distantly approaching but can’t quite make out until it is too late. And that, and Ian McEwan’s sparse and ethereal descriptions of minuscule things (Fiona’s reflection in a glass of cognac) present in colossal moments (as her husband packs to leave), makes for good reading.

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