In his latest novel, The Children Act, Ian McEwan introduces his readers to Fiona Maye, a revered High Court judge with a stellar reputation. Fiona presides over the family division, exercising her keen intellect and learned wisdom for the betterment of London's youth. Though her work focuses on children and families, she and her husband Jack have never had a family of their own; both approaching sixty, Jack and Fiona live relatively separate lives, often remembering to see each other only over meals and their inconsequential living arrangements. While Fiona, steeped in the intricacies of her work, believes herself content, Jack surprises her by revealing himself to be far less so; when he proposes an open marriage, he lights a fuse that causes Fiona's neatly considered world to tilt off its axis. While she flounders between feelings of loss and betrayal, a new case interrupts the melee of her personal life. Young Adam Henry, not yet over the ridge of adulthood that will let him decide his own fate, is hospitalized with leukemia and brainwashed, so some believe, into supporting his parents' decision to refuse a treatment that will invade their religious beliefs. With Adam's life in her hands, Fiona finds her decision in the Children Act set down only a few decades previously; but while her marriage unravels before her eyes, her decision on a young man's life will take her even closer to the brink. McEwan's novels sometimes have a way of bypassing the realm of storytelling; they become instead literary portraits, renderings of the utterly human imperfections of life as they spread like liquid across the fabric of truth, harmonious and inharmonious as it may be. The Children Act is one such novel, waxing languidly on the ebb and flow of a dissolving marriage and exploring the fragility of a woman who's been faced with a staggering decision. Pragmatic Fiona, though haunted by a few of the many staggering decisions she faces in her work, struggles anew with her husband’s confrontational discontent; she knows that, unlike so many typical court cases, this decision will leave her a blameless witness to its resonance. Her strength as a character – in particular, as a female character in a struggling marriage – lies less in her ability to stand up to her challenges and more in the quiet resilience of the spirit to simply endure. Her vulnerability makes her not a depiction of a weak woman, but of a woman in possession of deeply-rooted courage and honesty.
With McEwan’s characteristically luminous prose, The Children Act luxuriates in a place that's not always pretty, yet in the artistry of exploring that place McEwan manages to shape beauty. It’s the sort of timeless experimentation with emotion and fragility that he does so well. No grandiose surprises are in store to capsize the reader’s false sense of reality; the reality is, instead, quite real, and that in itself - the raw emotion drawn from unremarkable simplicity - becomes the apex of the experience. Slight and eloquent, The Children’s Act is an intriguing observation of how, in the face of emotional upheaval, we either succumb or overcome.
Title: The Children Act Author: Ian McEwan Publisher: Nan A. Talese Release date: September 9, 2014 Source: Doubleday (c/o)