September 08

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

I have been in a reading rut. I know how bad that sounds coming from the co-founder of a book blog, but the good news is that thanks to this little winner from well known English novelist Ian McEwan, I think I am out.  Thank you to Ms K for carrying the load for Readhead during this dark phase and to Ian McEwan for bringing it to an end.

The Children Act is a short novel about a UK Supreme Court Judge (Fiona Maye) responsible for some of the country’s most legally and ethically complicated cases involving the rights of children. The story centres on a case involving a Jehovah’s Witness boy called Adam Henry who is refusing a life saving blood transfusion. At just three months shy of eighteen, Adam is virtually an adult and arguably more than capable of making decisions on his own future. He wants to die for the faith that has guided him and his parents since the day he was born and struggles to comprehend why his his fate should rest in the hands of a Judge and her view of what constitutes his best interests.

This is the kind of case you read about in the news and in many ways, the facts are nothing new. What is interesting in this story however is what happens after the trial. I am itching to reveal more, but doing so would give too much away. I can hardly provide a spoiler if I want you to read the book.

I really enjoyed this book and the way Ian McEwan managed to grapple with morally and legally complex issues in such a compelling and easy to digest way. It is by no means heavy or difficult to read and I polished it off in just a few days. In fact, my only real criticism is that it was too easy and the side story about Fiona’s marriage problems didn’t help me on that front either.  In saying all of that, I thought it was a well researched and tightly penned story that raised lots of questions about organised religion, the proper bounds of the law and the definition of welfare….all without having to ask a single one.

This book is perfect for a not too serious bookclub in that it’s juicy, conflicted but also relatively short allowing lots of extra time for wine and cheese. If there are any Readhead readers out there in that category, can you please invite me along to your next meeting.  I’ve already planned some questions to get the discussion going:

• Do you think Fiona’s interview with Adam in the hospital should have been kept on record?
• Do you think Fiona’s professional judgement was affected by her childlessness?
• What else could a judge or court do to protect a child like Adam’s welfare?
• Did you get a sense of Ian McEwan’s views on organised religion from this book?
• Did you find Fiona’s situation at home added or distracted from the story?

For everyone else out there reading this – if you ever find yourself stuck in a reading rut, just give me a call and I will swing you my copy.

 And that is just my 2 cents worth.