My rating: 3 stars
The Children Act by Ian McEwan is a short novel, around 220 pages, which not only conveys a fictional story but also portraits the work performed by a leading High Court judge. For people who have a strong interest in the legal world and system, this may be quite an attention-grabbing book. However, I found the number of legal cases mentioned, which were not directly related to the plot, to slow down the development of the story being told.
At the centre of the plot is Fiona Maye, a leading High Court judge who has in hands the case of a seventeen-year-old boy, Adam, who is refusing a blood transfusion for religious reasons. She has to decide whether or not to allow the doctors to go ahead with the medical procedure that can save his life against the wishes of both the boy and his parents. To make a more informed decision, she decides to visit Adam in the hospital. That was for me the most powerful moment in the book. There was something quite special about seeing these two people, from a different age range, bond over a shared interest in music and poetry – a connection which has consequences later on in the story.
Fiona is quite successful in her work, but her marriage is not faring so well. Her husband intends to have an affair with another woman, and makes her aware of this, since they haven’t been having much of a sex life. They end up having a row and he leaves home. One of the things Ian McEwan fully achieves in The Children Act is to take us along and make us care about Fiona’s considerations regarding her life, such as how she ended up not having children and how the strong relationship she first had with her husband started to deteriorate.
Both what is happening in her personal and professional life have an impact on the development of the plot and on how the story unfolds. So, these two strands are successfully intertwined.
Although important questions about the influence of religious leaders on people’s decisions are raised, I struggled to go through both the huge number of legal cases mentioned and the “transcription” of Fiona’s decision on Adam’s case. I would have enjoyed the book much more if those parts were much less prominent. My feeling after finishing the book is that it may have worked much better as a short story than a novel, since part of it felt as filler.