[Review] The Children Act written by Ian McEwan

ian mcewan

Title: The Children Act
Author: Ian McEwan
Publisher: Doubleday – Nan. A. Talese
Date of Publication: 9 September 2014
Number of Pages: 240

Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts.

But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Jack doesn’t leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case—as well as her crumbling marriage—tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page. [Goodreads]

Review: Sometimes you discover a book that makes you wish you hadn’t been quite so liberal in awarding 5 stars to others. This is one such occasion.

The Children Act is intriguing. Fiona’s husband admits to a making preludes towards an affair,  after which, she reflects on the product of her life through the cases she has presided over as judge. The interlinking familial overtones are impressive and the level of sophistication necessary to achieve a genuine voice is one all writers should consider. McEwan knows where he wants the story to go and he knows what he wants the readers to engage and emote with. There is something painfully familiar about Fiona and her desire for children even though job opportunity, age and so many other external factors drag the chance further and further out of reach until they are left as a biological figment.

In my last review, I made the observation that the the story was not strongly character driven, though many readers felt differently. The Children Act is a powerful counterpoint to We Are Not Ourselves.

Where We Are Not Ourselves moved quickly from location to location, The Children Act has a “locked room” murder mystery feel. The action is centered on four primary locations and each location feels familiar and is readily imagined because of our own familiarity with the settings.

The familiarity heightens the tension of certain segments and at these moments it is almost possible to feel the strain, the tension, the confusion, seeping off the page. The emotions that Fiona experiences are shared by the reader. This is powerful. This is writing that doesn’t happen all the time. In fact, looking back at the books I’ve read so far this year, my only comparable reaction to the prose is Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood. McEwan is a force and his style had me obsessed to the last page.

Some may find the style dry and underwhelming but this is to make a circumstantial reading of the content. There is so much to praise in this book that I could write much more, however, it would spoil the joy of discovery for those who haven’t finished reading. I want to also make brief mention of the subtlety of the cover. The simplicity and elegance of the cover is a beautiful reflection of one section of the book. I will leave you to make the discovery for yourself.

This is my first Ian McEwan novel and I doubt it will be my last.


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