I have a confession to make: I’ve never read an Ian McEwan book before this, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Not for any big reason, but I had missed the Atonement train when it came out years ago and I didn’t feel particularly compelled to read The Children Act the day it came out. However, as luck would have it, I randomly came across it at the library (the library’s bookmobile, to be exact) and thought, Why not? The best thing about the library is that it’s free.
Well, friends, I finished reading The Children Act a few nights ago and I’m glad I did.
The Children Act is mainly about Fiona Maye, a High Court Judge who specializes in the family court. When the book starts, Fiona and her husband Jack are in the midst of an argument. Jack feels unsatisfied in their marriage, and proposes something that he thinks could make things easier. However, Fiona sees the suggestion as an ultimatum and her ego -or sensitivity- prevents her from admitting to Jack what is really bothering her that’s causing her to be so cold towards him. It turns out an old case has “left a scar tissue in her memory,” and has followed her from work into her daily life. What she doesn’t know is that her upcoming case, one that centres around a dying boy and his parents’ beliefs, will take this to the next extreme…
The Children Act balances Fiona’s court cases and personal life very well, giving the same attention to both. I sympathized with the ambitious, childless Fiona and found myself rooting for her and Jack to be okay. The novel’s big court case raises a lot of tough questions about religion and morals as well as the relationship between a Judge and her cases. Do Judges ever regret their rulings? Are they morally responsible for their cases after they’ve been closed? I found these questions to be very interesting and I find myself thinking about it even a few days later.
At only 221 pages long, this is a relatively short, fast-paced novel. I found it very stirring emotionally and the main case had my nose glued to the book until it was over. I’m not sure it’s a book I love enough to re-read, but it definitely engaged me throughout the reading process and left me with difficult questions to think about.
Verdict: A fast-paced novel that asks questions about the legal system, religion, and how little things have the power to affect us in big ways. A gripping read that I felt offered me a good introduction to McEwan’s work. I would definitely read another book by him.
Read if: You enjoy reading about legal cases, want to find out what the Children Act is, love books that have characters that you will want to root for and never forget.