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.