Ian McEwan is an author who has been on my list to read for quite some time. I thought I might start with what is considered to be his most popular work, “Atonement,” but I haven’t been in the mood to read anything too heartbreaking. “The Children Act” is his newest novel, and the premise caught my interest. Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in London, must decide the fate of a boy with leukemia, whose parents, and the boy, are refusing a life-saving blood transfusion on the grounds of religion. The hospital asks for the justice system to intervene, and the case comes before Fiona. While she is embroiled in this difficult case and its aftermath, her personal life is falling apart. Her husband of 30 years has just announced he would like to have an affair with a younger woman.
One of the main delights of this book is Fiona herself. It is a pleasure to read about such a composed, well-ordered mind. Fiona is a person who does and says exactly the right thing at the right time. She is of course brilliant and lives an intellectual’s life, so while she’s not deciding cases, she’s playing classical music on her baby grand piano. But she is intellectual in a way that is never snooty or arrogant. And she doesn’t regard everyone around her as if they were a subject on a pin. She is warm and compassionate, with a very strong sense of justice and doing right by the people whose fates she so often decides.
The question of religion and how far one might go to follow a particular doctrine is engrossing. McEwan does an excellent job of presenting both sides of the issue because the reader hears both the prosecution and defense in the issue of whether a child should be allowed to refuse necessary medical care due to religious beliefs. I didn’t change my mind after reading this, but I was briefly swayed by one side’s arguments.
I’ve heard that McEwan novels always have a shocking twist, some traumatic event, and this one does. Though not as shocking as I expected. There is foreshadowing, a lot of it, actually, of a type of event that never takes place. I’m not sure if that was to throw the reader off the scent, but the ending is almost anti-climactic.
I liked this well enough that, one sunny day when I don’t mind having my heart broken a little, I might pick up “Atonement.” (And a note to all the Main Street Book Clubbers out there – this would make a great book club pick!)