THE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan
For me, this novel is classic Ian McEwan. Sublime writing, unexpected and difficult conflicts between flawed and haunted characters, and not always a neat and tidy ending. In just over 200 pages of generous line spacing and font size, all of these Ian McEwan traits are well and truly apparent. To write about so much in such a compact manner is a quality writer.
Fiona Maye is 59 years old, childless, lives with her husband of many years, Jack, in London. She is a High Court judge, presiding over cases in the family court, renowned and respected for her sensitive and judicious handling of many difficult and heart rending cases that come before here. Two cases are detailed in the introductory chapters showing us the delicacy and ethical/moral conflict she deals with on what at times must seem like a daily basis. The first invovles the separation of Siamese twins - does one let one twin die to save the other, or is it better to allow both to die so as not to be seen to be 'murdering' the weaker. The second case involves the custody and education of two girls whose father belongs to a very conservative sect of the Jewish faith, and their mother who wishes the girls to have a mainstream education so as to not be bound by the conservatism of the life she has left. But these two cases pale into insignificance when Fiona finds herself the judge in the case of an 18 year old boy who has leukaemia and is refusing life saving blood transfusion on religious grounds. But is it a case of the boy making this decision for himself, or is he being unduly influenced by his devout parents? The judgement she eventually makes is never going to be an easy one, and it does come back to haunt her.
Meanwhile she has her own moral dilemmas to deal with. Her husband has announced that he wants to have an affair with a much younger woman, still declaring that he continues to love Fiona and will never leave her. Does she call his bluff or does she not? Is it the end of the road for this couple or will they both realise that some things are worth saving?
All of this in just 200 pages. I love that so much can be said, explored, touched upon, left unsaid and still produce a compelling and surprising story.