I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Ian McEwan for years – I either love his books or I hate them. Loved Atonement, Amsterdam, and On Chesil Beach . . . Saturday and Solar, not so much. His writing is always beautiful, even lyrical, but sometimes at the expense of the story. However, his newest book – The Children Act – is probably my all-time favorite.
At its heart, this is a story about love – between husband and wife, parents and child, and those indefinable relationships that sometimes occur in our lives.
Fiona Maye is a British High Court judge who presides over The Family Division. She is a brilliant and well-respected jurist with a reputation for thoughtful and well-supported decisions on difficult cases. Her personal life is sophisticated, well-ordered, and every bit as respectable as her professional life.
This is about to change.
The novel opens as Fiona faces two challenges – one in her personal life, one professional.
Her sixty-year old husband has announced that he wants to have an affair with a twenty-eight year old statistician, telling Fiona, “I need it. This is my last shot. I’ve yet to hear evidence for an afterlife.”
At the same time, she becomes involved in an emergency case concerning a seventeen-year old leukemia patient. His parents are refusing life-saving blood transfusions because, as Jehovah Witnesses, it is forbidden by their religion. The boy, Adam Henry, is within months of turning eighteen, the legal age for adulthood. His attorneys argue that he is in agreement with his parents and is prepared for whatever God intends for him. Fiona insists on visiting Adam in the hospital to judge his wishes for herself. The relationship that ensues is unexpected, creating additional turmoil in Fiona’s life.
These two events – the crisis in her marriage and the responsibility for deciding this boy’s fate – form the heart of the novel. Although there are moments when McEwan tends to digress at great length (the basis of my impatience with some of his work), I found myself caring very deeply about both Fiona and Adam.
To the extent McEwan is capable of doing so, I would say he’s written a page-turner.