The books I’ve read by Ian McEwan can be classed in two categories: bleak period pieces (see Atonement, On Chesil Beach) and modern day tales that take place over a very short period of time and whose main characters are high-flying professionals (see Amsterdam, Saturday, Solar and now The Children Act).
Back in October (when I read this book, drafted this review and then never got round to editing it) I was in a bit of a reading slump. And by a bit of a reading slump I mean I hadn’t even picked up a book in three weeks. But it was the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep and the one thing that I really fancied doing was getting stuck into a good Ian McEwan novel. I picked The Children Act purely because it was the one I could reach without having to get out of bed.
The Children Act is a strange blend between fiction and non-fiction. The main character, Fiona Maye, is a high court judge in family law and the book follows several cases as she passes sentences, as well as showing the impact they have on her personal life. The characters and their lives outside the courtroom are all the invention of Ian McEwan. But the court cases used to provide plot are all fairly truthful accounts of real court cases that have taken place. Almost in the same way that historical fiction takes the bare facts of what we know happened, and then embellishes a story around it.
The particular case which makes up the bulk of the plot concerns a teenage boy with leukaemia, who is refusing a blood transfusion on religious grounds. Fiona’s role is to decide whether the boy can be classed as an adult – and therefore have the right to refuse treatment – or a child who can be taken under the custody of the law and forced to receive a blood transfusion. One meeting between them sparks an unusual dynamic and a difficult to manage relationship.
Every time I return to Ian McEwan after a long absence I’m struck all over again by just how well he writes. The words just slip down so easily. You can be a third of the way through the book and it have felt like no effort at all, like no time has even passed.
Unfortunately with this particular book once I got a third of the way through I did hit a bit of a bump in the road – recording an entire court case takes a lot of speech and it’s just not that pleasant to read four pages of speaking. But aside from that little blip it was an interesting read, an enjoyable read and one I would definitely recommend.