Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Children Act

Ian McEwan's new novel, The Children Act, is about three of my favorite subjects: law, sex and religion.

Fiona May is a fifty nine year old British High Court Judge in the Family Law Division.  As the novel opens, she is working on an opinion in a child custody case between an Orthodox Jewish Father and a now Reformed Jewish mother.  Her previous case, about conjoined twins whom the conservative Catholic parents do not want to separate and kill one to save the other, has haunted her.

Because of her preoccupation with cases, Fiona has not had sex with Jack, her husband of over thirty years.  Jack, a college professor going through his "early old age crisis," has picked out a twenty nine year old statistician whom he wants to have an affair with.  Jack tells Fiona that he needs to have a passionate love affair before he's too old for it, and that he wants her permission.  In response, Fiona throws Jack out and changes the locks on the apartment.

Author Ian McEwan

Fiona's new case is an emergency hearing about a teenage Jehovah's Witness, Adam Henry, who is suffering from leukemia and will need a blood transfusion to survive.  The parents refuse permission on religious grounds and the hospital seeks a court order to overrule them.  Adam, who is 17, is only months away from his eighteenth birthday which would give him the authority to decide for himself.

Fiona goes to the hospital and interviews Adam and is smitten with him.  Adam is an intellectual, a gifted poet and a talented musician.  Fiona ultimately rules that the Court has a duty to save Adam from his religion.  Ultimately, this casts Adam adrift and causes him to loose his staunch faith.  He replaces his faith in God with a romantic obsession with the Judge which results in tragic consequences.

I enjoyed The Children Act a great deal.  It was not nearly as good as Sweet Tooth, but it was a very good read from one of the best contemporary British novelists.  Four out of five gavels.

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