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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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Top Customer Reviews
Other reviewers have summarized the plot vey well; we are focused on High Court Judge Fiona Maye at a particularly difficult period in her life. As a reader who is also staring into the abyss of what it means to be a middle aged woman in today's world, I related to Fiona's questioning of all her choices over the years that brought her to where she is. And then Fiona makes a professional decision, not lightly, that reverberates in her life like a hand grenade has been tossed in. How does she react to the consequences? How to respond represents another decision, but it's a personal one, not professional this time. More consequences.
What should Fiona have done? Which decisions in her life cost her the most? Novels like this cause the reader to ask: What would I have done? And what HAVE I done in my life that I would do differently if the consequences had been known to me before hand?
Engrossing, thought-provoking, and beautifully written.
Ian McEwan’s,The Children Act.
This is a book you must read. I am not giving you any choice, especially if, like me, you are on the cusp of old age, and have dedicated decades to resolving other people’s problems in court.
We lawyers are tourists treading warily in the chaos our client’s bring us. We strive to counsel them on how best to protect interests put into jeopardy in the rule-bound forum of the courts. Does all this gladiatorial hew-haw come at a cost?
I’m betting it does. For the past few years, I’ve thought long and hard about Friedrich Nietzsche and wrestling with monsters: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster,” Nietzsche said. “And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
What happens after years of too close association with the dark side? And I’ve wondered, do judges, too, feel the chill of the abyss – the sense that little is solid, that all vanishes amid the passions and chaos of people in crisis?
McEwan brings to life Fiona Maye, a 60-year-old British judge presiding in the family courts. She is married to a classics professor. They are childless and at the height of their careers, and powers. Evenings find Fiona sitting at home amid her papers, reading briefs on the issues she will decide, and drafts of opinions that will soon be published under her name.
She and her husband have drifted apart. Their marriage is in crisis. She finds refuge in the crippling uncertainties of the law. She’s a common law jurist, and the family that always stands by her with welcoming doors ajar are those judges who have come before her, creating the doctrines and dogma she draws upon to make impossibly difficult judgments.
One such case involves a boy in need of a blood transfusion. Just under the age of consent, he insists that he would rather die, serving Jehovah, than be treated. Fiona substitutes her judgment for his, and he lives. The young man’s reaction to her life-saving decision moves her in unexpected and troubling ways.
All this amid a crisis in her marriage that could well drive her into the very courts she presides over. She is wise in her assessment of litigants: they will spend all to vindicate principles that hardly matter. She considers her future in the dim light shed by the law. Better to avoid a push off the rocky ledge on which she stands. Inertia is a better guide, a safer shepherd.
Her husband, too, soon discovers no matter how exciting the storm, he’d rather list to port. The couple reconnects in small, unsuspecting, ways. Decades of marriage draw them together again. They realize that not all things need discussion, dissection, resolution.
I won’t give away the ending. Suffice it to say that in the end simple decency prevails. The book’s ending is beautiful, moving, and convincing. It gives hope to all who are married, who struggle, and who can find satisfaction in simple decency.
Fiona Maye lingered long at the edge of the abyss. A simple caress drew her back from the edge. That truth makes this book a necessity for those struggling against the dark tides of desperation.
Fiona May is a high court judge in England who presides over family court cases. To say that her job is a challenge would be an understatement. The cases deal with not only messy divorces and spouses delinquent with child support, but with complicated medical judgments and religious considerations. Not only does Fiona have to come to terms with putting the law before emotions but she can't help but bring these heart breaking decisions home with her. She and her husband live in the same house but find their lives becoming more separate. He finds the relationship cooling and without any intimacy. She feels put upon and can't seem to find time to make things right between her husband Jack and herself.
Add to that her new case involves a young 17 year old boy named Adam. He has leukemia and badly needs the treatment that may give him a better life and hopefully a longer one. The problem: He and his family are Jehovah Witnesses and the treatment involves blood products which the faith prohibits. Fiona wishes to meet the young man before making judgment and finds a very erudite, intelligent, and seemingly mature young man who is just months away from his eighteenth birthday when he could legally make his own decision. He makes his own case that he is ready to accept whatever the disease brings which will be an unpleasant, uncomfortable life fraught with probably brain damage and ultimately death. He tries to relay his objectives and moral attitudes. But Fiona is not convinced. And this is where the Children Act of 1989 comes into play. A judge may rule in the case of a minor when his health and welfare is at stake.
But Fiona's decision has it's consequences and they are ones that she could never have imagined. How does a judge separate herself from her judgment? How does she separate herself from this young man who she has come to care about? Especially when Adam has developed a certain admiration for her. Memories abound and in Fiona's life Adam has temporarily filled a void. But she has a duty to her profession and in the end she has to make decisions that are painful.
The author does a credible job in character development in this story. Fiona is a woman of accomplishment---she's not only a very competent judge and has worked long to attain her position, but she's also a talented musician and puts a lot of heart and soul into her piano abilities. But her personal life is empty. Her husband, Jack who is content as a professor doesn't have the same burdens that Fiona carries in her job. At one time they were a loving couple before they went their separate ways in their careers. Can they find a way back?