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The Children Actby Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan's The Children Act tackles a very touchy subject these days: religious freedom and all the ethical, moral, legal, and criminal ramifications therein. Fiona, a High Court judge, must rule in a case involving a Jehovah's Witness family, in which the almost 18-year-old son is on the very brink of death unless given an immediate blood transfusion. Clearly, McEwan has thoroughly researched this issue, and his depiction of the family's position is spot-on. Fiona is at a crisis point in her marriage, and this distraction only makes her job more difficult. While the reader will likely feel secure that Fiona's ruling is the correct one, sometimes life spins out a string of unanticipated consequences, and then, what good is hindsight? McEwan is a masterful writer and barely 25 pages into this book, I was newly awed at his ability to exquisitely articulate even the vaguest and most fleeting emotions. His immaculate insight into the human condition is astounding.
Ian McEwan's newest is a beautiful exploration of the distance we create between ourselves and other people and the irrevocable damage it causes. How can we move through life, the novel asks, from the unshakeable belief in the rightness of things in adolescence, into the gray areas of adult life, without shutting our gates and filling our moats with dragons and water? The book itself is short, but the questions it asks are the kind you will spend the rest of your life trying to answer.
Synopses & Reviews
A brilliant, emotionally wrenching new novel from the author of Atonement and Amsterdam
Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child's welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts.
But Fiona's professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah's Witnesses. But Jack doesn't leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case — as well as her crumbling marriage — tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.
"The 1989 Children Act made a child's welfare the top priority of English courts — easier said than done, given the complexities of modern life and the pervasiveness of human weakness, as Family Court Judge Fiona Maye discovers in McEwan's 13th novel (after Sweet Tooth). Approaching 60, at the peak of her career, Fiona has a reputation for well-written, well-reasoned decisions. She is, in fact, more comfortable with cool judgment than her husband's pleas for passion. While he pursues a 28-year-old statistician, Fiona focuses on casework, especially a hospital petition to overrule two Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse blood transfusions for Adam, their 17-year-old son who's dying of leukemia. Adam agrees with their decision. Fiona visits Adam in the hospital, where she finds him writing poetry and studying violin. Childless Fiona shares a musical moment with the boy, then rules in the hospital's favor. Adam's ensuing rebellion against his parents, break with religion, and passionate devotion to Fiona culminate in a disturbing face-to-face encounter that calls into question what constitutes a child's welfare and who best represents it. 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. Readers may dispute his most pessimistic inferences, but few will deny McEwan his place among the best of Britain's living novelists. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"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
"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
"[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
"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." Boston Globe
"McEwan crafts a taut morality tale in crystalline sentences." O Magazine
Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge who presides over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude, and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.
At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: Adam, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, is refusing for religious reasons the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents echo his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely expressed faith? In the course of reaching a decision, Fiona visits Adam in the hospital — and encounter that stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.
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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