Ian McEwan || The Children Act

A few months ago I put away Solar unfinished; the novel could just not interest me. It was with some apprehension that I started reading the latest novel by the man I consider to be one of my favourite novelists ever. Would he have returned to the level I had come to expect from Ian McEwan? It became soon clear that I was in for a treat: The Children Act expertly combines beautiful writing, a carefully constructed set-up and three important issues. At the start of the novel we find family court judge Fiona struggling with a professional and a personal dilemma. While she is writing her brief on a case – she has to judge which parent will get custody of their two daughters: the strict Jewish father trying to keep them in the Middle Ages or their mother who wants them to live in the 21th century – her thoughts keep going back to a crisis in her marriage. She can trace back the start of their marital problems to another case she had to judge: one half of a Siamese twin merely survives because of his healthy brother. Their parents do not want them separated, their lives are “in the hand of God”. Though Fiona does not regret her decision the case keeps her occupied, a fact she is not willing to share with her husband and which makes her avoid him. Then she is called for a new case: a young boy is dying of leukemia and can only be saved by a blood transfusion. As luck has it he is a devout jehovah’s witness and they have decided somewhere at the start of the 20th century that blood transfusions are a no go area. Fiona has to rule whether this almost but just not yet 18-year old is grown-up enough to be able to decide for himself what he wants to do. After having heard lawyers, briefs and social workers she decides to pay a visit to Adam and determine in person whether he is of his own mind or is influenced by the very concerned elders visiting him daily providing him with helpful bible quotes. In the hospital she crosses a line that becomes essential later on in the novel. Though the religious dilemma’s are important (and oh so nicely divided over Christians, Jews and Jehovah’s), even more so in this day and age in which extremists act in the name of their true God, I found that Fiona’s personal dilemma was as striking. Could she get in any way personally involved with a case, how capable was she of deciding on the lives of ordinary people herself living a very sheltered life in an enclave of judges, professors and the likes and could she rule without giving a thought to the effect of her ruling on the life of Adam, the surviving twin or the Jewish sisters?  I know that the effect of her ruling would probably be the responsibility of (overworked) social workers but still, it makes you wonder. Fiona has to face the fact that her ruling had an enormous impact on Adam, she has to come to terms with the consequences of this impact. This, more than the expertly described religious cases, touched me. For those of you thinking ‘this must be a pretty hefty novel describing all of that’ I’ve got some good news: McEwan expertly wrote it all down in a mere 140 pages. No excuse what so ever therefore not to read this absolutely brilliant novel.

children act

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About booksandliliane

I am an avid reader and love to share my love for literature. I have my own opinion on books that have been shortlisted, laureated by critics or are pushed on us by bookstores. I will try and explain why I like or do not like a book. Hopefully influencing you in your choice of books to read.
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