Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Post Number 10: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Productive relaxation is, according to my daughter, the only type of relaxation that I indulge in regularly.  And I confess that it is because of winter productive relaxation that I haven't written a blog entry for a while.
Winter projects tend to involve paint, and it is with some surprise that I realise the conservatory, the kitchen and both childrens' rooms have had the once over since October! 

The moving out of child 1 to university last year meant that child 2 nipped into the larger room and took up squatter's rights pretty smartish!  To soften the blow for child 1, I permitted an entire re-vamp of both rooms.  To de-blue the large room and to de-brown the small one!  These latter two projects have taken up most of January/February, but the results are worth a little slowing down of my blog production.

Anyway...enough. This is danger of becoming an interior design blog!

I have still managed to keep reading and have recently finished Ian McEwan's The Children Act.  It is a short novel, and is, perhaps characteristically, a little bleak.  Its central character is QC Fiona Maye, a successful High Court Judge who works in the family courts.  Ironically, she and her husband have no children, and this is a source of sadness that is a recurrent, but subtle theme throughout the story.  Her marriage is a partnership of over three decades, but that doesn't protect it from vulnerability.  These personal stories form a background to the cases that she finds herself absorbed in. 

The significant case in The Children Act  is that of Adam Henry, a 17 year old who is refusing blood transfusing treatment because of his faith.  Both he and his parents are Jehovah's Witnesses. Because he is below the legal medical age of consent, Fiona is called to rule on the case.  Her remit is to make a decision over his care that is in the best interest of the child's welfare.  The book explores how difficult this is to define, particularly when the child in question is nearly of age and clearly articulate and intelligent.

Adam's characterisation develops as Fiona decides to meet with him prior to coming to a judgement.  This is a fascinating transition; the case loses its objectivity as both Fiona and the reader get to see, hear and empathise with Adam.

The "no spoilers" promise is hard to keep with this book, but  I will refrain from telling you what Fiona's ruling is, however I will say that its consequences are far reaching. And these consequences are what make the book interesting.  McEwan writes sparingly throughout this novel, but he evokes the characters of Fiona and Adam with compassion. Despite this, I felt like an observer, a little detached from the story.  Perhaps that is the intention.  A High Court Judge cannot, of all things, be regarded as sentimental.

So it is that big issues; of life and death, of welfare and its lack, of good and bad parenting are seen as though from a distance.  Perhaps that does indeed give us a more considered perspective.  In the opening section of the narrative McEwan writes about the fate of conjoined twins, surmising that it is "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." The novel shines a light on modern western values, laws, faith and medicine. The moral high ground may well seem to be clearer from a perspective that knows little of real suffering.

This is a well constructed story.  Its brevity means that it is precise, in its depiction of character and issues.
We leave the story wiser than we began.
Worth reading.


And looking forward to a very different novel; my next post will be on The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. 

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