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The Children Act by Ian McEwan (Book Review)

“Blind luck, to arrive in the world with your properly formed parts in the right place, to be born to parents who were loving, not cruel, or to escape, by geographical or social accident, war or poverty. And therefore to find it so much easier to be virtuous.”

― Ian McEwan, The Children Act


If nothing else, this book made me aware of how hard it must be to perform the duties of a High-Court judge, to make daily decisions that affect the lives of others, and to be able to live with those judgements without going mad. We often back away from judgement when there is no clear right or wrong answer, but Fiona Maye, while struggling with her relationship with her husband, has to do all those things and still wear a smile and carry herself with a poise and conviction that all judges must hold.

She does a remarkable job, and there were many moments in the story where I felt, if it were me, I would have collapsed already under the pressure. However, we do see the cracks begin to appear in Judge Maye's resolve, and the human inadequacies that are a part of all of us, soon start to rear their head. If you like, we sense the mounting doom and pressure of such a high-profile job, begin to chip away at her soul.

One particular case, involving a boy of seventeen who has refused life-saving treatment to cure his Leukaemia on account of his religion, is in a sense that final blow, that heavy and unrelenting juggernaut of a case that, though it comes quietly, will grow in importance and eventually all out of control. In order to understand the boy's own sense of his religion and what it all means, she goes along to see the boy in his hospital bed. This is perhaps a crucial meeting to gauge whether or not he is acting upon his own belief's and understanding of his religion, or if he has been pushed and persuaded by third parties. This does help make her mind up in the case, but the boy befriends her and seems transfixed by her, which is something that will raise its head and create problems later in the story.

The Children Act is home to many strong characters, and McEwan obviously researched his subject well, as I felt the trials and tribulations of a high-court judge were wonderfully conveyed and powerfully brought to life. As I said at the beginning, this story made me think about judges in a different way by humanising what often seems to be a faceless justice and showing that High-Court judge or not, we are all human, and at times, we all must break.

Ian McEwan


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