Jacket (5)A “matter of extreme emergency”: whether or not to allow a leukemic child of 17 and his parents to refuse life-saving blood transfusions is the dilemma for Fiona Maye, a Justice in Family Matters of the High Court. Heady stuff for any philosopher or writer, indeed. From the deft McEwan imagination comes our protagonist Fiona, a 59 year old intelligent, childless, still beautiful, married woman of the law who sensitively addresses the dilemma by interviewing both parents and Adam. The parents’ religion prohibits the use of blood products. Adam, rational, sensitive, and articulate, agrees with them. But the High Court can overrule Adam and his parents’ decision since Adam is not yet 18. It’s relatively easy to guess how Fiona will decide, especially for frequent readers of legal thrillers; but The Children Act is a tense story of moral conflicts that can teeter either way when life, death and religious freedom intersect. The aftermath of Fiona’s decision is where we get hooked into the narrative and befriend Fiona, who has presided over equally painful issues in her judgeship in the High Court.

This reader did balk at McEwan’s rendering of Fiona’s husband as man who would announce to his wife that he intends to have an affair but hasn’t done so yet, but the author succeeds with other strategic characters like Adam and his parents with much greater subtlety and discretion.

McEwen deals with quite a few issues in this book that, to this reader at least, require a thicker or longer narrative.  Raising children versus professional ambition, open marriage versus a stagnant monogamy, adolescent infatuation with a much older woman bordering on obsession in a story already driven by religious choice versus the state’s responsibility toward minors.  In spite of this, the book keeps us entertained, guessing and surprised because McEwan can turn ideas into literary magic just as he did in Atonement and Amsterdam, some years back.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan will be available to purchase in paperback on April 28, 2015.

Written by Pat