Friday, October 3, 2014

The Children Act

I've been waiting half the summer for another novel to impress me the way I was impressed by "All the Light you Cannot See." Yesterday afternoon I walked over to the library to pick up my copy of Ian McEwan's "The Children Act." This afternoon, I scarcely know where to begin. This is now my favorite Ian McEwan novel. There, I've said it. I can't for the life of me understand the tepid response that this novel has been given by other professional reviewers. I know that it will haunt me for a while.
A word about the cover, if I may? Take a quick look and what do you see? I saw a drop of blood. Knowing what the book was about, that seemed apropos. But then, upon closer scrutiny, the body of a gorgeous instrument, the violin. Now, what was I to make of that? Music, with its power to reduce one to a blubbering fool or raise one to the heights of ecstasy, plays a major role in McEwan's story but I have yet to hear it mentioned in any of the online discussions.
This novel should grace every book group's discussion list this year. The delicious dichotomy Mr. McEwan sets up between the law and morality. I think that most of us would agree that a "correct" action may not always be the moral one, and vice versa. But what if you alone have to be the arbiter? What a tremendously crushing responsibility.
British barrister Fiona Maye is my latest fictional heroine, a woman known for her sharp intellect, renowned for consistently making excruciating choices in the family court system, with unwavering belief in her own judgment. You can read the plot of this story anywhere but until you actually read McEwan's rendering, you cannot fully appreciate the subtlety and nuance of the narrative.
A seventeen-year-old boy lies in a hospital bed. He suffers from leukemia and is dangerously near death because he and his parents all agree that a blood transfusion, deemed medically necessary to save his life, would go against the tenets of their Jehovah's Witness faith. Because he is not of legal age to make an informed decision based upon England's Children Act, a guardian has brought the case to Fiona's courtroom for a verdict.
McEwan breathes glorious life into the young man, Adam, as seen through the eyes of all who interact with him, his nurses, and Fiona herself, when she suspends the court hearing to visit with him in his hospital room. Fiona is a woman who some, especially her seemingly long-suffering husband Jack, think is too cold, too self-contained, and maybe too involved in her work. Astute readers will see through this façade.
The strained relationship between Jack and Fiona is masterfully portrayed. After thirty-some years together, a request for freedom, a possible betrayal, a lengthy attempt to inch their way back, tiptoeing around the volatile subject, careful not to touch. It's all painfully realistic and recognizable to anyone who has gone through a separation or divorce.
I found this novel to be moving, thought-provoking, and beautifully written. Linda, my go to corroborator in all things literary, I know you read it. What say you?


Linda said...

I totally agree with you on every point! McEwan manages to thoroughly explore themes and relationships in 200 pages while other authors struggle to develop stories and characters in 800+ pages. If only Fiona's husband understood her as well as the reader does; and, yes, I loved, admired, and ached for her too. Although I'm not knowledgeable about the law or music, McEwan made me understand the importance of both to the characters and to the storyline. This was definitely one of my favorites of the year, and another outstanding McEwan novel. Have you read "Enduring Love"? That one still haunts me.

Sallyb said...

Oh, I so agree Linda. I just finished Amy Tan's latest and it went on and on and on. The same old story. What a pleasure to read McEwan, so succinct, so spot on. As to the power of music, did you happen to see the film "A Late Quartet?" And yes, I loved "Enduring Love."