Legal argument and Moral Dilemma in The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan first came to my attention a few years ago when my book club chose On Chesil Beach for discussion. I enjoyed this poignant novella about newly-weds on honeymoon in Dorset. It demonstrates how lives are sometimes ruined as much by what is left unsaid as by what is said and done.

Ian McEwan has quite a few novels to his name. His best-known works are Amsterdam and Atonement. The latter was made into a movie of the same name starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. Recently, I read Solar, the story of a Nobel prize-winning physicist which won an award for comic writing. I also read Sweet Tooth, the story of a Cambridge graduate recruited to Britain’s secret service. Neither of these two works held the same appeal for me as McEwan’s earlier novels. Consequently, I was not sure to expect when I picked up The Children Act.

This time, Ian McEwan has chosen is a High Court judge for his heroine. Fiona Maye makes life-changing decisions for the families that come before her.

A moral question

Fiona’s marriage hits troubled waters when husband Jack becomes involved with a younger woman. Work provides a refuge. Fiona becomes absorbed in the case of a seventeen-year old boy with leukaemia. The boy is refusing a blood transfusion because of his religious beliefs.

Will Fiona decide in favour of the hospital and save the boy’s life? Or will she be swayed by his parents’ argument and the boy’s own religious views? If the parents prevail, the boy will die.

Whatever Fiona decides, her judgment will have a profound impact.

McEwan’s research into the Courts is apparent and the legal arguments from relevant case law influence Fiona’s judgement but ultimately the decision she makes is hers alone.

The Children Act is a thoughtful novel and at just over 200 pages, it’s a quick and easy read.

[Disclosure: An ARC was made available by the publisher, Jonathan Cape, via Netgalley for the purpose of this review.]

Atonement by Ian McEwan

It is not often that I think that a film/movie is worth seeing before you have read the book but Atonement by Ian McEwan fits the bill.

Atonement is a story about love and war, about lies and about the class system in Britain. It is also a story about writing stories. As novels about war go, it is not the best that I have read. For that, I would suggest Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy or Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong. For novels dealing with the class system, it is probably also not the best. But the characters are well-drawn and the story is well told. I don’t think you would be disappointed with this novel if it were selected by your book club but I would suggest that you make a point of seeing the movie also and see if you agree that it adds to your appreciation of the novel.