Monday 16 February 2015

The Children Act - Ian McEwan (2014)

So I’ve finally read my first Ian McEwan novel. Where have I been all these years? McEwan has only been nominated for the Man Booker Prize six times, winning it once for Amsterdam in 1998, amongst a whole plethora of other awards. McEwan was also named as one of the fifty greatest writers since 1945 by The Times. All these nominations and accolades are all very well, but it doesn’t mean much to me actually. My interest has to be piqued in sometimes curious ways for me to approach a writer with enthusiasm. In this case the book cub I run at the library has forced my hand and The Children Act ended up sharing the train journey to and from work with me. Actually it was good company; Ian McEwan is an excellent writer.

The Children Act features a brilliant opening scene in which high court judge Fiona Maye sits surround by her court papers, nursing a drink and being outraged by her aging husband who is appealing for the right to have an affair. The remainder of the novel more than lives up to this initial scene, with McEwan perfectly encapsulating the dilemma of a dysfunctional personal life interfering with professional responsibilities, in this case the complex case of a seventeen year old Jehovah Witness needing a life saving blood transfusion. The Children Act is compelling reading due to McEwan’s deft handling of character psychology and the collision between religion and secularism. Fiona Maye is a finely drawn character and the reader is totally drawn into her world across the duration of this short novel. McEwan gets everything just right with almost cold precision; his writing style is brilliantly tight and sparse. Nothing is wasted, although some readers may find the legal aspects of the narrative a bit dry, however the legal details serve to highlight the contrast between Maye’s hermetic legal world and the psychological challenge of making a sound judgement.

Although I finished reading The Children Act three weeks ago the power of the emotive penultimate scenes are still with me. McEwan’s descriptive skills are such that I can still picture the interior of Maye’s apartment and his depiction of London in winter. Such staying power is always the hallmark of a quality novel. The Children Act has made me an instant McEwan fan. It’s almost made up for the pain of the infamous Finkler Question.....


  1. Well if you liked this, I think you will LOVE some of his other books, because for me, this is not one of his best. Atonement is probably my favourite.

  2. Good to know - no doubt I'll read it at some stage....

  3. Atonement is the only novel that I have read by him and it was kinda mehhh. Maybe it was all the hype at the time but the novel left me indifferent. I still want to read this one and Amsterdam though.

  4. McEwan seems to be a divisive writer. Maybe I'll try Atonement next to see what I think.