#am reading The Children Act
Author: Ian McKewan
Discovered: Picked up in Hatchard’s, St Pancras Railway Station
Where read: (in part) On a day trip by train to Folkestone
What's the story?
Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge renowned for handling complex family law cases that call for empathy, strength and intelligence. In her professional life she is called to try an urgent case in which a 17 year old boy, Adam, refuses to accept a blood transfusion on religious grounds. Meanwhile she must deal with her own crisis at home.
The Word's Shortlist view:
Like On Chesil Beach, The Children Act, is a concise and punchy novel that hangs around one single dilemma. McKewan knows instinctively how to hang an entire story around a lone plot point which is why his short novels are as rich as longer epics.
The first part of the novel sees Fiona accepting the breakdown of her 37 year marriage. When her husband admits that he wants to have an affair she manages the news in lawyer mode - cool, impassive and outwardly apathetic.
As the story develops McKewan brilliantly pushes Fiona to a different place where neither the rules of the bar nor the violin can help. As she becomes more involved in Adam’s case she is forced to see herself in a new light. “She could have phoned one of three friends, but she could not bear to hear herself explain her situation and make it irreversibly real.” Adam, is at once the son and spouse.
The crux of this novel is the interplay between Fiona’s instinctive talent in trying family law cases and her own feelings of defeat as a woman. “Yes, her childlessness was a fugue in itself.....a flight from her proper destiny. Her failure to become a woman, as her mother understood the term.” This makes the scenes with Adam so powerful.
Some of the themes in the novel are pure middle class “Above the rush-hour din it was her ideal self she heard, the pianist she could never become, performing faultlessly Bach’s second partita.” However, this is a literary landscape McKewan knows so well, he can be forgiven.
In the end this is a a hugely rewarding slice of contemporary fiction about a very human dilemma.
Who should read this book?
Fans of Ian McKewan and fans of British literary fiction.
What’s next on the bookshelf
Stuffocation by James Wallman
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