I have been a fan of Ian McEwan since I read Saturday. I won an autographed copy of Sweet Tooth earlier this year but haven’t read it yet. I read an interview with McEwan about how the Children Act came to be and I knew I was going to read it. He was talking to a judge who was telling him about a case very similar to the one he presents in the book. I figure anything about the British legal system would be interesting and McEwan’s style would make it lyrical. I was right on both counts.
The story is about Fiona Maye, a family court judge in London. She is married to Jack, a university professor. As the book opens, Jack tells Fiona that he wants to have an affair, but still stay married to Fiona. She is, naturally, outraged, and refuses the idea. He packs his bag and leaves. She then receives a call that there has been an emergency petition filed by a hospital in London to give a 17 year old Leukemia patient a blood transfusion that both he and his parents are refusing on religious grounds – they are Jehovah’s Witnesses and the religion strictly forbids blood transfusions. The transfusion is needed because of two of the drugs Adam, the patient, needs in order to survive. Fiona makes the rather unusual decision to visit the boy in the hospital.
She and the social worker assigned to the case visit Adam. Fiona is impressed with his wit and intelligence and listens to him play the violin and even sings a song with him playing along. The rest of the book is about the ramifications of Fiona’s decision.
I do not want to talk about the rest of the plot because I do not want to ruin it for anyone who reads the books. The book left me feeling unsettled. It left me asking some questions of myself. Would I ever put my religious faith above that of the health of my child? (Never). How can someone have so much faith? How does one practice a religion that would allow a child to die when the death could be prevented? There are no answers. And I certainly do not mock anyone’s beliefs. Neither does Ian McEwan. He writes a very thoughtful and thought-provoking book, while managing to not make fun of or degrade the religion at issue. The book certainly made me think.
Ian McEwan is one writer who causes me to get lost in language. He writes almost like a poet. He is a compact writer – he is not overly wordy, but still manages to convey a great deal of detail with few words. I love that about him. He can describe Fiona’s apartment in London and I can see it perfectly in my mind’s eye.
The Children Act is about religion, culture, coming of age, love, middle age, life, death and faith. It is not judgmental about any of its themes, but tells a beautiful story.