Wednesday, 24 September 2014
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Published by: Jonathan Cape
One Sunday night while at home preparing for the working week ahead, high court judge Fiona Maye's husband Jack of over 30 years tells her he wants to have an affair with his young statistician and would like her consent. Furious and hurt she tells him if he does this it will be the end of their marriage. Jack assures her he does not want a divorce, just one last passionate affair, since she is no longer interested in passion. They argue and their argument is interupted by a phone call. It is Fiona's clerk informing her that an urgent case has been assigned to her.
Adam is a 17 year old boy with a rare type of Leukaemia. He is in hospital undergoing agressive chemotherapy and he needs a blood transfusion to save his life. Both Adam and his parents are Jehovia Witnesses and are refusing treatment. The hospital where he is being treated is appealing to the courts to allow them to treat him against his will. If they are unable to do so in the next two days he will die....
The Children Act is a relatively short novel (224 pages long) but there is so much contained in it.
Jack has noticed that Fiona has become distant. He knows that something has happened that she has chosen not to share with him and he feels alienated because of it. He feels resentful and enjoys the attention and distraction of another woman. His declaration to have an affair is really an ultimatum - he is trying to force Fiona to open up to him. Instead she does the opposite and asks him to leave.
Fiona specialises in family law, dealing with cases related to divorce and child welfare. The nature of her job means she has to make decisions that affect the lives of children - and in some cases their lives depend on her decisions and one hard decision results in the loss of an innocent life. It is revealed to us the readers that this decision in particular is the root of the problem that is affecting Fiona's well-being and causing the rift in her marriage - as she she is haunted by the consequences of her decision and is unable to talk about it.
The case of Adam is an opportunity for Fiona to redeem herself. That she is childless and not completely without regret about this means that she also develops a maternal affinity for him.
The novel demonstrates the contrast between Fiona's behaviour in her professional capacity - impartial, rational etc., and how she is in her personal life - unable to see beyond her heart ache, irrational, etc.
She rules in favour of the hospital and the outcome of her decision results in some unexpected developments in the story.
I thought The Children Act was a wonderful read and one I will revisit. I highly recommend it.