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The Children Act Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 9, 2014
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—The New Yorker
"McEwan presents a ferociously intelligent and competent woman struggling to rule on a complex legal matter while feeling humiliated and betrayed by her husband ... a notable volume from one of the finest writers alive."
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"A short, concise, strong novel in which a judge's ruling decides the fate of a teenage boy in ways she never intended or imagined ... it's a book that begins with the briskness of a legal brief written by a brilliant mind, and concludes with a gracefulness found in the work of few other writers."
—Meg Wolitzer, NPR
"A quietly exhilarating book ... The Children Act chronicles the recalibration of a 30-year marriage after it has fallen out of balance."
—Mona Simpson, Los Angeles Times
"Haunting ... a brief but substantial addition to the author’s oeuvre."
—Entertainment Weekly, A-
"[The Children Act’s] sense of life-and-death urgency never wavers ... you would have to go back to Saturday or Atonement to find scenes of equivalent intensity and emotional investment."
—Wall Street Journal
"Smart and elegant ... a grown-up novel that reminds us just how messy life can be and how the justice system ... doesn't always deliver justice."
—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today
"The Children Act manages to be highly subtle and page-turningly dramatic at once ... Only a master could manage, in barely over 200 pages, to engage so many ideas, leaving nothing neatly answered."
"Heartbreaking and profound, it skillfully juxtaposes the dilemmas of ordinary life and tabloid-ready controversy."
"McEwan crafts a taut morality tale in crystalline sentences."
"As in Atonement, what doesn’t happen has the power to destroy; as in Amsterdam, McEwan probes the dread beneath civilized society. In spare prose, he examines cases, people, and situations, to reveal anger, sorrow, shame, impulse, and yearning. He rejects religious dogma that lacks compassion, but scrutinizes secular morality as well ... Few will deny McEwan his place among the best of Britain’s living novelists."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"McEwan, always a smart, engaging writer, here takes more than one familiar situation and creates at every turn something new and emotionally rewarding in a way he hasn’t done so well since On Chesil Beach."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Irrefutably creative ... With his trademark style, which is a tranquil mix of exacting word choice and easily flowing sentences, McEwan once again observes with depth and wisdom the universal truth in the uncommon situation."
—Booklist, starred review
About the Author
IAN McEWAN is the bestselling author of fifteen books, including the novels Sweet Tooth; Solar, winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize; On Chesil Beach; Saturday; Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the W. H. Smith Literary Award; The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both short-listed for the Booker Prize; Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize; and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award; as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets.
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Ian McEwan explores familiar themes from previous books, such as monogamy and faith vs. science. The story begins with Fiona, a High Court Judge, nursing a drink after her husband makes a shocking demand. After decades of marriage, he believes he has one last chance at passion. He is going to pursue this one way or the other, but is looking for her blessing so they can keep their marriage intact. After all, he still loves her. It is only the passion that is missing. Fiona's feelings of betrayal as this story line with her husband plays out act as a backdrop to the primary story arc, as well as a catalyst for some of Fiona's questionable decisions.
Fiona's job requires her to make decisions on behalf of families. Her cases are heart wrenching, and often it seems like no matter how she decides there will be hurt and loss (sometimes of life itself). The Children's Act states that, "When a court determines any question with respect to . . . the upbringing of a child . . . the child's welfare shall be the court's paramount consideration." We see how Fiona applies this to her cases, primarily a case regarding a 17 year old Jehovah's Witness with leukemia who is refusing a transfusion for religious reasons.
This book is thought provoking, but does not hit you over the head with philosophical imagery and dialogue, like I found to be the case with Black Dogs. Fiona's cases alone were compelling enough to make this book worthwhile.
A proverb credited to the Chinese states that when you save a life, you are responsible for that person. This book begs the question for the rulings of a judge set to rule on the conduct of Adam's life. It is an intriguing discussion from the point of decision to the after effects of her ruling, this dichotomy is explored. The prose is set to lovely passages of evocative music that will send any wistful soul back to the classics to revisit the songs lovingly entwined with the story.
I can go back and forth on McEwan on any given book. I struggle with the stark outcomes a small gesture may elicit in his plots. He can devastate with a gesture in his writing. But I am always enlightened by the experience of his books and this one is no exception.
This novel is about British High Court judge Fiona Maye, soon to turn 60 years old. Her assignment is the family court division and she must make important life and death decisions involving the welfare of children and adults alike. Fiona has been comfortably married for many years and is surprised to learn that her husband may not be all that happy with their relationship.
While we read about the ways that Fiona deals with her marital strife, the story really centers around a case involving a 17 year old boy who has leukemia. His parents are strict Jehovah's Witnesses and are opposed to his receiving any type of blood products - which doctors all testify are necessary in order to him to survive. If he doesn't get treatment right away, then he will die a miserable death. The boy himself agrees with his parents and he does not want this medical and legal intervention.
If the boy was 18 then he would legally be allowed to refuse medical treatment, but he's not; he's 3 months away from that. So Fiona must make this decision and take all sides into account.
I don't want to give away any further of the story - suffice it to say that her decision will not only change the boy's life, but her's as well.
This is just a terrific novel. Ian McEwan is one of my favorite writers and I thought this was one of his best. He has such an ease to his writing - he can write about medical or legal matters in detail and keep the reader's interest as well as educate us along the way.
His characters all feel so real and you'll find yourself holding your breath at times with what is happening. Like many of this author's book, I found myself emotionally involved and did a little gasp towards the end.