the children act by ian mcewan book coverReviewed by Jax Kepple

Ian McEwan’s The Children Act is, like all his other books, beautifully written. At a brief 240 pages, the story packs a lot of detailed legal cases as plot points for Fiona Maye, High Court Judge, as she navigates both marital strife at home and a case that comes a little too close for comfort. Ultimately, there was not enough there for it to be a truly impeccable novel.

Fiona and her husband Jack live a quiet, childless life in the Gray’s Inn section of London, where she is a judge in the Family Circuit and he is a geology lecturer at a university. At the start, Fiona is fuming due to a request posed by Jack, one that she finds unacceptable. She is interrupted by a late night phone call from her clerk, indicating that a new case would come to the bench tomorrow involving a boy, Adam, who has leukemia. Adam’s parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and therefore are against any sort of blood transfusion. He is also three month’s shy of his eighteenth birthday, when he would be able to make the decision for himself.

As Fiona is reeling from Jack’s behavior, she is faced with this difficult case in court. She decides to go visit Adam to see how his mindset is. While in the hospital, they form a connection through music and poetry. Fiona makes her decision, and, without giving it away, afterwards is continuously confronted with it for months to come.

McEwan is able to easily explain the legal terminology without it being a huge burden to the reader. The Maye’s apartment, Fiona’s chambers, Adam’s hospital room, a weekend circuit trip to Newcastle all explode to life on the page, which add to the somewhat privileged life that Fiona leads. Her problems compared are trivial compared to the life and death decision in Adam’s life, but they are presented in the same manner.

The end twist (if you can call it that) was a little rushed. I felt that almost too much time was spent setting up the Christmas concert that Fiona was playing in, which itself was presented as a “do or die” situation for her since she was playing in front of all her colleagues. However, it really didn’t matter and I felt that a few more pages could have helped to tie up the ending in a more flawless way.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.