Ian McEwan, The Children Act


I finished this book seven days ago and had not found the time to write about yet due to a hectic schedule, business travel and 10-12-hour workdays. I am now having a quiet evening in a Salt Lake City hotel, the kind of somewhat recent, beige and brown, nondescript you-could-be-anywhere-in-the-world hotel room that just makes you want to go home. Not a home away from home… I had not travelled in the past few months due to a change in role, and while I do enjoy going places and meeting people, I had not missed the fake “homey-ness” of mid-range hotel chains. So here we go with the book commentary.

Fiona, an aging Family Court judge, is troubled by some sensitive cases she has had to rule on. In the course of year, she sees her share of marital disputes, custody fights, and diverging opinions of what is in children’s best interests. This turmoil has taken on a toll on her private life, in addition to the long hours spend reviewing cases and writing up judgement. Her husband, a Classics professor, is disheartened by her lack of interest in him and her suddenly reduced libido. He thinks that he needs to have a passionate fling and takes off to have a go at it with a much younger statistician (Is her profession significant? One generally does not think of statisticians as sexy and exciting…). When he leaves with a suitcase, Fiona decides to change the locks on their apartment.  She is disappointed in her own inability to deal with the situation rationally and tells herself she is really no better than some of the people she has to pass judgment on.

While all this is going on, she has to rule on a case which may turn out to be one of the most significant of her life: the matter of permitting a hospital to administer blood transfusions to a not-quite-eighteen-year-old young man suffering from leukemia. The leukemia treatment has caused his bone marrow to stop functioning and without the new blood he will die. He is a Jehovah ’s Witness and he and his parents are adamant that blood products not be used.

She works hard to separate her private and professional life, and to concentrate on the work at hand.

It would not have been apparent, but her spirits were heavy as she set about Tuesday’s life. The last case of the morning was prolonged by complex argument over commercial law. A divorcing husband claimed that the three million pounds he had been ordered to pay to his wife was not his to give away. It emerged, but far too slowly, that he was the sole director and only employee of an enterprise that made or did nothing – it was fig leaf for a beneficial tax arrangement. Fiona found for the wife. The afternoon was now cleared for the hospital’s emergency application in the Jehovah’s Witness case. In her room once more, she ate a sandwich and an apple at her desk while she read through the submissions. Meanwhile, her colleagues were lunching splendidly at Lincoln’s Inn. Forty minutes later, one clarifying thought accompanied her as she made her way to courtroom eight. Here was a matter of life and death.

She rules in favor of the hospital and the boy is saved… for a time.

What I found interesting in this book was the description of the daily routine of the judge, and the description of life in a neighbourhood of London where only members of the bar can live or rent accommodations, Gray’s Inn, a sort of professional association (one of four), an enclave in the modern city of London. Far more picturesque than my dull hotel in Salt Lake City.

At this point, I have read McEwan’s three most recent novels and I still have to go to the earlier works, which do promise to be interesting when I find the time… and get through a good chunk of the current TBR pile.


McEwan, Ian. The Children Act. Knopf Canada, 2014.

Other things






4 responses »

  1. I have been a fan of Ian McE since my student days and I’ve read nearly everything he has written . I went to an event with him when Children’s Act was published . I found it a little disappointing I’m afraid and it received a lukewarm reception here.

    I am a lawyer myself and whilst he had obviously meticulously researched the field , I found the story line a little unconvincing and perhaps a bit misogynist . As for living in Greys Inn , barristers have their offices ( chambers) there but to live there is wildly expensive so hardly anyone does !!!!

    • Hi Helen, I checked out Greys Inn on the web as I was reading the book. I had an inkling it couldn’t be a cheap place to live given the location… In any case, who would want to live in an enclave of people doing the same type of thing you do, after spending the day with them! I much prefer the diversity of a “normal” neighbourhood.

      • lol! I was just saying he was beguiled by the milieu …it’s interesting as a quebecois book made a big noise here …it’s called Le Facteur Emotif in fr …The Peculiar Postman here . I tried to track it down in FR ( I go to Paris every 2 or 3 weeks) . It was not available in normal FR bookshops as never actually published in France so they directed me to LA Biblioteque Quebecoise where they were amazed to hear this was the latest hit in UK. It’s a quirky book but tbh I am sure there are much better quebecois books. I guess what I am saying is so much is lost in translation …a GERMAN friend tells me Children’s Act v well received in Germany! So hard to tell what will appeal ……so many books I read in Fr never appear in English …..a shame!

      • Strange indeed… that book was originally published in 2005. I do like the editor (and the collection) it comes from, but I have never heard about his book in particular (nor about the author). Very mixed reviews on Goodreads.

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