The Children Act – Ian McEwan

Back in the 1980s a judge could still have made the teenager a ward of court and seen him in chambers or hospital or at home. Back then, a nobel ideal had somehow survived into the modern era, dented and rusty like a suit of armour. Judges had stood in for the monarch and had been for centuries the guardians of the nation’s children. Nowadays the social workers from Cafcass did the job and reported back. The old system, slow and inefficient,  preserved the human touch. Now, fewer delays, more boxes to tick, more to be taken on trust. The lives of the children were held in compute memory, accurately, but rather less kindly. (Pages 35-36)

I have never really found myself too intrigued with the law. It’s always had a connotation of big heavy text books and long words and phrases I don’t understand. So picking up The Children Act I knew was going to be something out of my comfort zone. However on  the Sunday Time’s recommendation that this is “a powerful, humane novel”, I decided it would be worth a shot. 

And I have to say that I agree with the Sunday Times. I found myself thinking throughout reading this novel about choice. It is very easy to see how the outcomes could’ve been so very different for Fiona, the protagonist, had she made a different choice. McEwan approaches topics such as relationships and religion with regard to choice and how, especially religion, affects children and whether in fact it should. 

The novel centres around Fiona, a high court judge, passing judgements on a number of cases but most poignantly that of Adam Henry. Adam, referred to as A in the law documents, is suffering from Leukaemia and refusing treatment due to his religious beliefs. Fiona is given the choice to overrule the seventeen year old’s wishes and allow the hospital to continue to treat him, or to revoke the hospital’s treatment plan on account of the very literate and talented young man. 

I did find this a challenging read. I don’t know whether that was because I wasn’t feeling great when I started it, but it definitely picked up pace towards the final chapter, which was greatly appreciated. McEwan is a very lyrical writer. The paragraphs can seem longwinded and some explanations can be pages long, but when looking back at the novel as a whole, without those I don’t see it being the same. It’s an incredibly heartbreaking story (within which are several heartbreaking law cases) which has to be explained fully for it’s effect. 

Total pages – 213

Total read time – 6 hours

Rating /10 – 7.5-8 

Recommend – Yes


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