From sentence structure to story content, Ian McEwan’s newest book, The Children Act, is masterful word craft at its finest. A small, yet mighty novel at just 221 pages, tells the story of a thirty-year marriage, seemingly serene, suddenly fractured apart by an ultimatum. It is a story of two people "in the infancy of old age." Fiona Maye is a family case judge on London’s High Court. Her workload is tremendous, each case she hears involves the welfare and fate of a child. Some decisions she makes haunt her, lingering on her mind long after they have been decided. Her husband Jack is an academic. Childless by choice, they are devoted to each other and their respective careers, their marriage solid, satisfying and full until recently.
Now it's unraveling and while the immediate reason is Jack’s desire for an open marriage, there has been an emotional estrangement in place for some time.
Fiona carries on, presiding over the case of a young man, Adam Henry, in need of a medical procedure that is forbidden by the tenants of his deeply held religious beliefs. Both Fiona and Adam must grapple with the decisions made and the repercussions that follow.
What happens when the set of rules we live by is suddenly stripped away from us though we protest vehemently? How do we cope? What happens when we must we must navigate without the safety net of defined boundaries? The Children Act is superb storytelling, not only for what we are told, but also for what we are left to ponder.
Brilliant, haunting and multilayered. It is a must read.