The Children Act by Ian McEwan
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Rating: Hot like meh, Realistic Fiction
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.
As far my interest is concerned, it was captured and sustained solely for the slight resemblances that The Children Act bore to The Good Wife, a show I have the occasional liking for; or more generally, for my proclivities to all things fictional and relating to a court of law.
While trying to relay an affecting story of a judge in the middle of a silently turbulent, deceptively simple hitch in her married life, with her husband wanting his very own affair with her consent, and a particularly provoking case of a minor and his parents, being Jehovah’s Witnesses, refusing transfusion for the former, Ian McEwan ended up forming a pretentious, wayward novel whose attraction for me was simply the superficial.
Some books don’t take a stand, and are all the more commendable for it. This is not one of them. It needed to take a stand, on anything! And it didn’t. Fiona, our protagonist’s own opinions, while we are being buried in the meaningless kind of the same, didn’t seem of import or consequence; hell, when it mattered, or could have mattered, they simply didn’t seem to exist.
Certain readers and critics have considered this latest work provocative, or at least controversial, and I have trouble discerning the basis for that. There are religious issues but like I said, neither the character nor the book takes a stand. In regards to other diminutive scandals that could have been, everything was dismal, disappointingly innocuous.
The story is rather straightforward, especially surprising in the face of all the meandering of thoughts and crap that goes on. The ending itself, while not predictable, wasn’t as big a blow as perhaps the author expected to be.
But overlooking all that,-because I could have given not a fuck about all if only-what bugs me the most is the clinical sense of portrayal, the lack of nuances or realism in Ian McEwan‘s characters, maybe the dearth of any will to do so. As such, I myself was removed from the case playing on whilst I read it.
The book, I suppose, was contrived to be a character study but rather than focusing on Fiona, the author chose to instead go on and on, in a rather eloquent fashion, about the weather and classical music and what she thought of a boy’s poetry and old cases-basically, the trivialities that don’t make up the basis of her pain/life/resolution.
Yet I finished The Children Act and did not end up hating it. For that, I have a few vague, dispensable reasons. The writing style was not glaringly beautiful, but truly exceptional. It took a few pages to get into, and then it sucked one in, hard. Beyond that, the story itself wasn’t fast, or didn’t seem as such, but the pages sped by hastily.
One aspect I did like was the genuine, clean obsession that develops in Adam, the boy who refuses treatment. At times, I thought that his reactions, facets of personality were affected; but he happened to be the only character in whom I could actually feel at times, a treatment as a person on the part of the author.
And all this that came-all the gripes and else, were simply a result of the after, after the book was finished. The story itself kept me in a sort of oblivion, both a negative and positive. I couldn’t seem to begin caring for the characters at all beyond a surface oh shit in the beginning, but neither was I given a pause to consider whether I liked the story or not.
Well, my first literary encounter with Ian McEwan didn’t go as planned. If this is an indication of what other books hide within their covers, I can’t decide whether to rejoice or despair, since I have indeed witnessed the effect of Atonement on the masses and can’t figure out if I want the same for myself. Overall, though, The Children Act was an experiential failure/disappointment.
Review copy provided by Random House UK, Vintage Publishing.