NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

3.0 out of 5 stars -- Short and powerful, this novel focuses on some decisions (and the repercussions) made by a High Court judge while she is also experiencing some major turmoil in her own domestic life.

The "welfare" of children is always a moral and lofty goal, but who knows best how that might be achieved? The people of London bring forth their marital and family woes to be adjudicated by the highest court. One judge, Fiona Maye, is also mandated to arbitrate cases involving medical issues such as the separation of conjoined twins and the question of whether or not a boy with leukemia should be forced to receive a blood transfusion even though he and his parents are avowed Jehovah Witness who abhor the therapy.

To my mind, Fiona is a cold fish and I could not understand her personality nor her reaction to the dilemmas in her life -- not to say I didn't feel empathy for her, it's just that her responses weren't anything like my own would likely have been. When confronted by her husband wanting an "open marriage" because their sex life is nonexistent, her reaction is to run away from any meaningful discussion with him and passive aggressively deal with the situation by changing the locks. Meanwhile, her attention is focused on the case of Adam Henry -- a nearly 18 year old boy who needs a blood transfusion. I confess, as a nurse, that this prohibition makes absolutely no sense to me. On the other hand, I totally support freedom of religion and personal choice. Fiona decides to meet with the boy before making her ruling. The legal arguments described herein were brilliant. Unfortunately, she sets in motion a chain of events that result in an outcome that was not entirely anticipated. As any student of psychology knows, you can't take away a defense mechanism or a crutch without providing something else to hold onto.

The reason I gave this only 3 stars is partly because of the digressions in wholly uninteresting LONG sidebars related to music (Fiona is an amateur pianist) and, though I enjoy music myself and have a modest talent, these descriptions added nothing to the plot line and were in fact, to me, beside the point. I wanted to know more about the case that sort of derailed Fiona and that insight was sorely lacking. We know what happened, but since Fiona is so distancing of her own emotions, the reader never fully appreciates how her court related decisions really affect her. The ending is rather abrupt and, while we might admire her honesty, Fiona never clicks as any sort of woman we might want to know or befriend. She lacks a certain inability for insight into her own motives and feelings, and I judged her lacking because of that. I have read this author before and have previously felt frustration with his characterizations. Despite all this, the story is a good one and would make a great book club selection for discussion.

Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for the e-book ARC to review. 

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