BB21C: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Review published on September 23, 2015.

When a court determines any question with respect to.the upbringing of a childthe childs welfare shall be the courts paramount consideration.

Section 1(a), the Children Act (1989)

What elevates a book to become a ‘Best Book of the Century’? For me it must linger in the mind long after I have read it. It should have an immediacy about it with a gripping story that arouses a variety of emotions and characters who, like them or not, are realistic. If the story is controversial leading me to consider what I would have done in similar situations then that is a bonus. The Children Act fulfils all of these criteria one hundred fold.

Fiona Maye,a duty judge specialising in Family Law can be called in emergencies where quick decisions must be made. Her long standing marriage has been passionate but childless, for which she blames her career as ‘she never got around to it’. By the nature of her cases many of them are controversial especially when she must make a decision with haste in line with the Children Act, but not necessarily in agreement with parents and family involved.

We meet Fiona as she is contacted about a teenage boy, Adam, suffering from leukaemia whose only chance of a cure rests on him accepting donated blood.   As a staunch Jehovah’s witness Adam and his family refuse to allow the hospital to go ahead with the transfusion. Fiona has the power to override their religious beliefs and allow the medical staff to proceed even if it means holding Adam down to receive the blood.

Relaxing at home, absorbed in case notes, Fiona is aware that Jack, her husband is lingering nearby anxious to speak to her. His words shock her as he bemoans the lack of intimacy of late in their marriage, claiming they live like siblings rather than lovers. In vain he attempts to discuss the situation asserting that he has the right to expect intimacy. When Fiona, stunned, is not prepared to at least attempt to mend the situation Jack leaves intent on having an affair. Perhaps Jack chose the wrong moment as so absorbed in her work was Fiona it barely registered with her that she was alone.

Losing herself in Adam’s situation next morning finds her in her chambers, smart and professional as ever dealing with broken families but unable to fix her own.

Always cool and with an invisible emotional shield, now at the age of 59 Fiona finds herself less detached from cases that involve the life or death of a minor. The case involving Siamese twins where she chose to go against parental wishes and allow the hospital to operate, saving one twin at the expense of the other, is weighing heavily on her, disturbing her sleep.

Uncharacteristically Fiona visits Adam to ascertain that he although he is three months short of his eighteenth birthday he has the maturity to make his own decision regarding accepting or refusing the blood transfusion. She is immediately taken by this ‘lovely boy,’ and he intrigues her. An emotional bond between this older woman and a vulnerable lad is created. A situation that is not ideal and bodes ill for both of them.

Fiona rules that the hospital must proceed with the transfusion. Adam recovers well and he and Fiona remain in touch.

The first part of the book has a hint of journalism and readers will recognise some of the actual cases that took place. The writer does not make judgment on the law or religious adherence but does highlight the dichotomy, leaving the reader to decide what they would consider the correct route to go down. If only it was so easy. As a parent and a grandparent I was totally absorbed in this very moving book and greatly affected by the ending. It is fairly short but intense and would I imagine create lively discussion at a readers’ group.

Sheila A. Grant, Kilmarnock

The Children Act by Ian McEwan is published in pbk by Vintage in April 2015


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