Book Review | The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan The Children Act Book Review Book Cover

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.

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15 thoughts on “Book Review | The Children Act by Ian McEwan

  1. Amy Sachs says:

    First of all I’m jealous that your library has a book mobile! I’ve only read one Ian McEwan book, A Child in Time, for a class once and really didn’t like it. I still feel like I need to give Atonement a try though!

    • kmn04books says:

      Haha yes! The Toronto Public Library system is amazing. A small part of me wants to read Atonement, but a big part of me feels like I missed that boat + I don’t really have motivation to get to it. However, if you read it and love it, you’ll have to let me know 😉

  2. Darlyn says:

    I never thought I would hear (read) the words fast-paced and Ian McEwan in one sentence. I read Atonement years ago, and I got the feeling he was having a great time drawing things out. LOL. This book raises a lot of difficult questions, and sounds like something I can really sink my teeth into.

  3. Naomi says:

    This one sounds good to me! I have three others by him in the past, two I liked, and one bored me, so, for me, he is not always a must-read author. Atonement was very good, but one event really, really got to me (and it affected the rest of the book, of course), and I also enjoyed On Chesil Beach. I wasn’t a big fan of Saturday.

    • kmn04books says:

      Good to know! I almost picked that up at a used book store but my physical TBR at home stopped me. Did the one event in Atonement negatively affect the rest of the book for you?

      • Naomi says:

        The book couldn’t be what it is without the event that takes place that drove me so mad. It definitely affects the whole book, but it is supposed to. It’s what makes the book so emotional and moving, but, for me, it just made me so mad! It is hard to explain. You might love it.

  4. ebookclassics says:

    Great review! I think I had a similar experience with the book. It was gripping and you can’t help becoming emotionally invested in the characters. But I don’t think the book is very memorable or will become a must-read.

    I’m jealous of the book mobile too, I love them!

  5. Dewey's Read-a-thon (@readathon) says:

    The first McEwan novel I read was On Chesil Beach, and I absolutely loved it for its palpable sense of dread and awkwardness. He’s a powerful writer, that one. I read Atonement later and loved it, too. Looking forward to this one! P.S. This is Andi in the Readathon account. Ha!

    • kmn04books says:

      Hehe hi Andi! I’m hearing a lot of good things about On Chesil Beach; I’ll have to see if I can find a cheap copy! Hope the readathon goes well this weekend! I’ll be cheering you all on!

  6. jjoongie says:

    Ooo welcome to Ian McEwan! I have to admit that “The Children Act” was the third in a string of recent novels by Ian McEwan I found very disappointing — well-written because McEwan writes beautifully but lacking. “The Children Act” did hint at the kinds of themes and moods he writes so incredibly well, though, and I really hope you read more from him! I personally must recommend “Enduring Love” (one of my FAV opening passages and really solid and kind of unnerving throughout) and “On Chesil Beach” (totally agree with Dewey’s comment above about its “palpable sense of dread and awkwardness” — it’s an incredible novella packed with great tension and McEwan dives into his characters’ heads wonderfully). (:

  7. rachaeldunk says:

    I quite liked The Children Act too, the legal cases were facinating and I felt quite moved at the end. I’d also recommend Atonement, even if you’ve seen the movie, the book is definitely worth reading.

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