The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Published in 2015 by Vintage
My copy: Kindle
Fiona Maye, a leading High Court judge, renowned for her fierce intelligence and sensitivity is called on to try an urgent case. For religious reasons, a seventeen-year-old boy is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life. Time is running out.
She visits the boy in hospital – an encounter which stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. But it is Fiona who must ultimately decide whether he lives or dies and her judgement will have momentous consequences for them both.
This is a really short novel that I read in just one day – and I have really mixed feelings about it. I found much of the book interesting and overall the novel was very readable, but when I closed it I thought to myself: “What a stupid book!”
It seemed like there was a really interesting 100 page novel here that needed to be made longer, so instead of expanding on the main theme of the book, loads of boring filler was added. It’s a shame as the main thread of the novel was fascinating – the young boy Adam who doesn’t want to have a blood transfusion due to his religious beliefs. When is it ok for the law to intervene in these cases? Although I come down strongly on one side of the debate, both sides were really well presented in the novel and it made me question my own views and look more closely at the different sides of the argument. I found the legal elements of the novel really interesting, which surprised me as it wouldn’t normally be my thing, but some of the cases that Fiona was dealing with were intriguing and also helped to put the main case in the novel into context.
So where did the novel fall down for me? Well, the central story is fascinating but it is drowned out by other boring sub plots. The first involved Fiona’s husband Jack who, at the very start of the novel, announces he wants one last wild affair as he’s now in his 60s. This subplot was not only a bit tedious and never went anywhere, but Jack also comes across as a really horrible character. Fiona is also pretty cold and strange at times. The book also gets carried away with other irrelevant subplots such as Fiona’s piano playing, which culminates in a performance towards the end of the book. It goes on for ages, is utterly boring and makes no difference whatsoever to the novel – it just seemed to be the author’s way of showing how clever he is to know all this detail about classical music. Eventually I skipped through these pages.
This could have been a brilliant novel if it had focused on Adam and properly developed that storyline. Instead, I was left feeling pretty frustrated by it.