I recently read my tenth Ian McEwan novel -- so I can speak with a bit of authority when I say he is an author that elicits a wide range of opinion, among readers. Often I have heard him called "hit and miss", and I've used the phrase myself. But with The Children Act, honestly, I could hardly put the book down once I started it. I love the way this thing is structured, and the story is a fascinating one. It's written in third person, but feels like a first person narrative because of its tight focus on the central character, a High Court judge named Fiona Maye. Everything is seen through her eyes. She presides over very high profile cases in the Family Court section of England's legal system. For instance, at one point she rules upon the separation of Siamese twins. But most of her cases fall along the lines of marital disputes, parental rights, etc. Divorce wranglings. He-saids, she-saids [or more correctly] he-wants, she-wants.
Her sixty-year old husband announces that he wants to have one last fling with a college sweetheart [who is like… still in college]. She's one of his students. Fiona is outraged, and her own marriage now tends to resemble some of the predicaments she sees in her courtroom.
She begins this battle of juggling her professional career with her own marital woes just as a new case arrives upon the scene. It involves a boy three months shy of eighteen, suffering from leukemia and in need of a blood transfusion. His parents are Jehovah's Witnesses, and feel that it is a violation of scriptural principles to accept blood into the body of their son, Adam. And Adam agrees.
Fiona, prior to giving her ruling, is suspicious that Adam's impending martyrdom is possibly a result of parental coercion rather than based upon a true understanding of what he is facing. And time is running out. As a result, she makes the unprecedented decision to visit Adam in the hospital.
The rest -- I will not say. You must read the book, if you haven't done so yet.
It is brilliant.
The Children Act is an example of Ian McEwan hitting the mark, as he does in the majority of his other novels, as well. So… don't listen to any naysayers. Trust me. It's 221 pages of time well spent.