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The Children Act [Hardcover]

Ian McEwan

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Book Description

2 Sep 2014

Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge, presiding over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now, her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.

At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: for religious reasons, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, Adam, is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents share his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely held faith? In the course of reaching a decision Fiona visits Adam in hospital - an encounter which stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (2 Sep 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0224101994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224101998
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 15 x 1.4 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 94 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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More About the Author

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author of short stories and novels for adults, as well as The Daydreamer, a children's novel illustrated by Anthony Browne. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His novels include The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, The Cement Garden, Enduring Love, Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize, Atonement, Saturday and On Chesil Beach.

Product Description


"Emotionally wrenching and visceral." (Elle)

Book Description

A brilliant, emotionally wrenching new novel from the author of Atonement and Amsterdam.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Had she lost him already?" 10 Aug 2014
By Bonnie Brody - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I am a long-time fan of Ian McEwan and always look forward to his new books. This one is sterling and lives up to his best works.

Fiona Maye is a judge in London's family court. She oversees cases that deal primarily with children though she also handles divorce cases. As the book opens, Fiona is returning from a day at work and has just had a horrifying conversation with her husband Jack, a professor of ancient history. They have been married for 35 years and Jack has decided that he wants to have an affair though he still loves Fiona. He feels like his sexual needs have not been met by Fiona and there is a woman he is interested in. For him, it will be a last-ditch effort to find passion at the age of 60. For Fiona, age 59, if he goes through with this, it will be the end of their marriage.

The novel examines the family court system and Fiona's role in it. She is especially involved in a particular case where a 17 year-old boy (almost 18) is refusing a blood transfusion that is essential to save his life. He and his family are Jehovah Witnesses and transfusing blood goes against their religion. The boy, Adam Henry, says that he agrees with his parents and the church elders - he does not want a transfusion. The doctors say that the transfusion is necessary because Adam has leukemia and without this transfusion he will die a very painful death. Fiona is to decide this case.

The reader goes though time with Fiona as she works on her cases and worries about her marriage with Jack. Will it survive or will it be like some of the miserable divorce cases that she proceeds over? She believes that she can do her job well despite her personal concerns.

The novel gets its name from Section 1(A), The Children Act, 1989, which states that "When a court determines any question with respect to . . . the upbringing of a child . . . the child's welfare shall be the court's paramount consideration." Mr. McEwan does an excellent job of showing how Fiona brings this act to life though her actions on the bench. This book gives the reader a lot to think about, mull over and absorb.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ... the second half of "The Children Act" were as good as the first 22 Aug 2014
By Ms Winston - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If only the second half of "The Children Act" were as good as the first, I would have given it 5 stars. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and what drew me in initially in the first half did not carry over. The author gave us two story lines that I did not feel successfully merged -- the first story line was by far the most interesting (court cases involving minor children and their parents in the British legal system with decisions based on what is known as The Children Act), while the second half dealt with the personal life of the judge who made the decision in the court case that dominated the novel.

Fiona Maye is 59 years old, a respected High Court justice who is undergoing a personal marital crisis with her 60 year old husband right at the time she is required to make a decision as to whether a 17 year old boy (not yet legally an adult) can refuse life saving blood transfusions on religious grounds. Fiona is the judge we wish we had in real court cases -- intelligent, thoughtful, knowing what is pertinent in the case and what is not. We are privy to her thought processes on three cases, all of which involve religion to a greater or lesser degree. Unfortunately, Fiona's husband is in the midst of a middle age crisis primarily sexual in nature -- in my opinion a real cliche. I had no interest in Jack Maye and his seemingly overpowering need for some of the old sexual passion, so that he falls for a twenty-something in his own office....ho hum...who cares?

SPOILER: After Fiona makes her decision about the blood transfusion case, it comes back to haunt her in a more than slightly unbelievable manner. I just don't buy it and I think it was necessary to buy that on some level a 17 going on 18 year old boy is going to become infatuated with a woman almost 60. I think you could make a case that it was not a romantic infatuation, but even if so the mere suggestion was somewhat off-putting. And Adam, the youth, is not the magical lad that everyone seems to feel that he is -- I just found him annoying. The whole ending was a let down for me. On the other hand, the writing had all of the old literary style and magic of the best of Ian McEwan. The dialog was realistic, and the interior monologues of Fiona as she is making her decisions are so spot-on that it is difficult to believe she is the same woman in the second half.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Safeguarding Their Welfare 21 Aug 2014
By Terri J. Rice - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"…wondering again whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability, whether it was not contempt and ostracism she feared, as in the novels of Flaubert and Tolstoy, but pity. To the the object if general pity was also a form of social death… restless husband in one last throw, brave wife maintaining her dignity, younger woman remote and blameless. And she had thought her acting days ended on a summer lawn, just before she fell in love."

I love Ian McEwan's writing, his ability to get to the heart of Fiona, to make the reader really care about her. Her husband Jack has just declared that at age 60 that he needs to have an affair- no deception- remain married and have an affair.

And in the midst of this, Fiona continues steadfastly, resolutely judging court cases, intriguing court cases like Adam Henry almost 18 who is refusing treatment for leukemia because of his Jehovah Witness upbringing that disallows blood transfusions. Fiona has to decide to allow the hospital to begin treatment going against Adam's and the parent's convictions or allow nothing thereby certainly agreeing to Adam's imminent death. The title- The Children Act- comes from an act in U.K. written to ensure children are safeguarded and their welfare is promoted.

I read the book in two quick days, McEwan's writing is elegant and thoughtful drawing the reader in to the story. I had to know and so I kept reading.
4.0 out of 5 stars Mature Love 25 Aug 2014
By Cynthia - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Fiona is at the top of her life professionally working as a child and family court judge yet her personal life is crashing. McEwan returns to his much used theme of lovers estranged. In “Chesil Beach” and “Atonement” and many other of his books it was young lovers but In “Children” the couple is in their late 50’s/early 60’s but what they share with some McEwan protagonists is emotional upheaval in the form of potentially inappropriate outside relationships. McEwan does this so well. He puts together disparate people that bond under taut circumstances. He pulls and twists the reins of love and what was formerly a comfortable and easily understood tie is threatened. It’s also impossible to forget that the setting is the UK. The situations Mc’s characters find themselves in are universal but the place is specifically British. This isn’t one of my favorite of his books however because he delves almost too deeply into the technical side of Fiona’s job and that slows down the plot.
17 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Typical McEwan 12 Aug 2014
By Jordan Michel - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
NOTE: I'd give it 3.5 stars if I could, but chose to round down in the absence of that option.

I've read five or six books by McEwan now. The first - Atonement - was the only one that didn't disappoint. I've enjoyed some of the others. I've been disturbed by some. But none other that Atonement felt truly great (I'm beginning to wonder if I'd still feel the same about Atonement if I reread it). The rest have all felt somewhat heavy handed to me, and The Children's Act is no exception.

It was engaging enough for me to read the whole book in one day (a day with a lot of downtime in airplanes and airport lounges), a feat I rarely achieve with even such a short book. I found the cases McEwan described to be interesting, but writing a story about a judge seems far too obvious a way to dig into a number of weighty ethical quandaries. And, viewing these cases through the eyes of a judge also keeps the reader largely detached from all but the most prominent one. I was pleasantly surprised when I read McEwan's balanced version of each side of the primary case, but the heavy handedness followed as soon as the judge's decision was delivered (I won't say any more than that since this was later in the book).

Although the story of an older couple's marital strife seemed a bit tired, I was mildly interested in it. However, I found it bizarre that Fiona could put her finger on exactly what was troubling her and just refused to talk about it. Failing to understand the impact of non-relationship troubles on your relationship is one thing, but knowing exactly what's bothering you and refusing to discuss it with your spouse of many years - why?

There's a scene near the end of the book where a man with whom Fiona is rehearsing for a musical performance tells a long, drawn-out story about a recent case of his. The story is mostly a rant about what her colleague feels was a miscarriage of justice, and the whole time (seven and a half pages), Fiona keeps trying to get him to stop talking and get to the point so they can rehearse. By this point in the book, I felt much the same way towards McEwan. I didn't want to hear about another case with no relevance to the main story line; I just wanted it over.

One final (spoiler free) note about the ending: Although part of the story line ended somewhat predictably, I really liked the juxtaposition of the two story lines at the end. I can't say anything more than that for fear of giving something away, but the alignment of Fiona's personal and professional story lines at the end almost saved the book for me.

Fans of McEwan will certainly disagree with my three star rating. If you've liked his other books, you'll likely enjoy this one too. But, for anyone else, I can offer only a qualified recommendation.
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