The Children Act by Ian McEwan

The Children Act‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan tells the story of Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in the Family Division who presides over cases involving the welfare of children. One particular case involves Adam Henry, a seventeen year old Jehovah’s Witness whose devoutly religious parents reject a lifesaving blood transfusion to treat his leukaemia. Meanwhile, Fiona is also facing a crisis in her personal life as her husband, Jack, announces that he is leaving her for another woman.

Like many of his other novels which have dealt with topics ranging from the intricacies of neuroscience (‘Saturday’) to de Clerembault’s syndrome (‘Enduring Love’) to climate change (‘Solar’), McEwan has meticulously researched the inner workings of the family courts. The story draws on details of real cases and the title refers to the 1989 Children Act which demands that Fiona’s ruling must be based on the interests of the child’s welfare. As a result, ‘The Children Act’ raises a whole host of thought-provoking medical, ethical and legal questions about the place of religion in the law and rulings which affect those so close to adulthood.

Fiona visits Adam in hospital in order to understand both his and his parents’ reasons for refusing the blood transfusion just three months away from his eighteenth birthday. Interestingly, Fiona’s final decision on the case doesn’t constitute the climax of the novel and McEwan blends the two dilemmas in Fiona’s life well. Although McEwan’s own views on the debate are perfectly clear, the characters are nuanced and, most importantly, the topic is dealt with sensitively and doesn’t get bogged down in too much detail thanks to the conciseness of his writing.

Apart from the ending, I don’t think ‘The Children Act’ was quite as powerful as much of his other work – ‘Enduring Love’, ‘Atonement’ and ‘At Chesil Beach’ all spring to mind here – but it is very much a typical McEwan novella: clinical, controversial and compelling.


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12 responses to “The Children Act by Ian McEwan

  1. I like Ian McEwan but i don’t know this book, so maybe i will read it ! thank’s for the review !


  2. I flip and flop on McEwan. I think i will read this one though. There is something rather compelling about it to me.


  3. I am ambivalent about McEwan, and often feel depressed while reading his books, but i, too, like the subject matter here, so thanks for the review.


  4. *’On Chesil Beach’ (Sorry!)

    Good review. I’m getting the sense this is one of McEwan’s lesser works. I’m certainly in no hurry to read it based on the synopsis, though I’ve generally enjoyed everything I’ve read thus far. Interestingly, you’re the first person I’ve encountered who didn’t like ‘Amsterdam’. Haven’t read it myself — just an observation!


  5. Great review! When I first saw a review for this book I wanted to read it, but I have always been hit and miss with McEwan. Atonement and The Cement Garden were finished in a day but Enduring Love took a few weeks and after three years I am still reading The Child In Time, (despite it being only 300 pages long). So I am glad to hear that this book doesnt get dampened by the heavy topics that are dealt with, and I am looking forward to reading this now!


    • I think most people seem to be hit and miss with McEwan – myself included – but I think it’s interesting that there isn’t much consensus around which of his works are the hits and the misses!


      • Completely agree, for me Atonement is one of his best works and one of my favourite book but I know people who cant stand it, but have enjoyed a lot of his stuff that I just haven’t been able to get in to. I think it has a lot to do with his writing style, his first book came out in the late 70s and I think over the years he has experimented and tried numerous styles.


  6. Atonement is one of m favourite books of all time so I’m sure I’ll pick up a copy of this one at some time but a few reviewers have mentioned that this one isn’t quite as compelling. Interesting subject to choose though.


  7. Sarah

    I recently read this and reviewed on my blog as well, I liked the focus on an area Ian McEwan’s clearly so interested in himself, and although it probably could have been filled out to novel size I think a novella leaves more of an impresion, I was gripped and read it all in a day anyway!


  8. Pingback: Nutshell by Ian McEwan | A Little Blog of Books

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