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Read of the Week: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Written by The Reader, 7th December 2016

Our Read of the Week comes from the bookshelf of our Reader Leader Cheryl who recommends The Children Act by Ian McEwan.

This author is one of my favourites and I’ve read just about everything he’s written so excuse me if I get lyrical! McEwan's novels involve completely different and very complex subject matter and all are painstakingly researched and The Children Act is no exception.

The title speaks for itself and the subject centres on the moral and legal dilemmas a female judge experiences in making difficult decisions in the family court and parallel events in her personal life.

"She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude and sensitivity but her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife."

Ian McEwan, The Children Act

fd7957f422349f49279d51543e831393The main focus of her work in this novel involves a case regarding a Jehovah’s Witness family whose 17 year old son needs a blood transfusion; both the parents and the boy are refusing this life-saving intervention because of their faith. Whether or not a secular court should overrule a sincerely held faith is the huge question faced by the court, further complicated by the boy imminently achieving the age of majority.


Not only does the judge have to decide on this complex issue but also to deal with the impact her work and this decision in particular has on her own personal life. McEwan deals with this difficult topic in a sensitive and non-judgemental way and his characters are finely drawn and so entirely credible. It also offers insight into the workings of a family court, her isolation and vulnerability as a woman in a male dominated legal system and the strains and stresses of trying to combine her professional and personal life.

"Perhaps it was perverse to discover in this sudden interruption a promise of freedom. On the other side of the city a teenager confronted death for his own or his parents’ beliefs. It was not her business or mission to save him, but to decide what was reasonable and lawful.

She would have liked to see this boy for herself, remove herself from a domestic morass, as well as from the courtroom, for an hour or two, take a journey, immerse herself in the intricacies, fashion a judgement forged by her own observations. The parents’ beliefs might be an affirmation of their son’s, or a death sentence he dared not challenge."

Ian McEwanThe Children Act

I can heartily recommend this well-written novel – it’s not a difficult read but one that poses many questions on faith, personal choice and how this sits with the law.


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