The Children Act

The Children Act

Large Print - 2014
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Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge in the family court, renowned for fierce intelligence, exactitude, and sensitivity. But professional success belies private sorrow: the regret of childlessness and a thirty-year marriage in crisis. Fiona is trying an urgent case: a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy is refusing life-saving medical treatment for religious reasons. Fiona visits the boy in the hospital, and her decision has momentous consequences for them both.
Publisher: Waterville, Maine :, Wheeler Publishing,, 2014.
Edition: Large print edition.
ISBN: 9781410474643
Characteristics: 261 pages (large print) ; 23 cm.


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Feb 12, 2019

Very good writing, but the protagonist and story are a bit clinical.

Dec 28, 2018

Like On Chesil Beach which preceded it, this book is quite short and has a similar tremulous, sinking, hold-your-breath feeling about it. It is named for the UK legislation of 1989 the Children Act which rules that “When a court determines any question with respect…to the upbringing of a child… the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration”.

The child in this case is Adam Henry, just three months short of his eighteenth birthday, who along with his parents, is refusing a blood transfusion rendered necessary by treatment of cancer because they are Jehovah’s Witnesses. The hospital, aware that time is running out, brings the case to the court, where it rests before High Court judge, Fiona Maye.

‘My Lady’ Justice Maye has come before other excruciating moral cases before in her capacity as judge with the Family Division, most particularly a case about the enforced separation of conjoined twins. In deciding this current case under such tight deadlines, she decides to go to the hospital to visit Adam Henry, who she finds to be highly intelligent, articulate and engaged. McEwen really knows how to built the tension as he reports her long-winded finding to the court, just as it would have been experienced by the gallery filled with family and journalists.

At the same time that professionally Fiona Maye is dealing with this, her own personal life is unravelling. After a long marriage with both partners working, her husband Jack announces that he wants to have an affair, now that the spark has gone from their marriage. She is hurt, furious and ashamed. She has seen many ruptured families in her professional life, but somehow felt aloof from all that.

It’s only a small book, and I don’t want to give too much away. At heart is the question of how much responsibility Fiona has for Adam’s wellbeing both professionally and personally.

Adam’s case is just one in a long professional life, and I felt that McEwan turned too didactic in his backgrounding of the other cases she had heard. It felt clunky and contrived. The ending is not as I expected it to be, and could perhaps be seen as a letdown. I didn’t see it that way, however. I don’t believe in karma, and there is often no symmetry or fairness in consequences. The book has the same chilliness that many of McEwan’s books express, while dealing with pain and regret. Somehow it seems a very English combination.

I read this for my bookgroup, and it was my choice from about two years ago. It has taken some time for us to receive it! As it happened, we read it in November, just as the film was on general release.

Dec 07, 2018

A stunning narrative of one woman's journey into self-how her professional life converges with the personal, more importantly for me, how the unconscious dictates choices we make and the resultant consequences of those choices.

Nov 11, 2018

Excellent book. Story of a Judge facing her own personal problems but who has to deal with family court cases involving really serious family issues. Good portrayal of the difficulties of applying the law to deeply complex human problems and the unintended consequences.

ontherideau Sep 22, 2018

Intelligent and deeply important

Aug 19, 2018

The first part is slow going and depressing. Childless middle aged Fiona seems self-absorbed and way too proud of her status as a judge. Jack, asking her permission to have an affair, seems barely worthy of her. The details of the court are truly fascinating. Fiona notes that a bunch of cases in a row have to do with families in turmoil over religion, though she's careful to use the details of the law and morality in her rulings. Then comes the case of Adam, a member of a Jehovah's Witness family, who's dying of leukemia, just 3 months shy of 18, when he'd be an adult and free to make his own decisions. His doctors say he'll be dead by then, and needs immediately the transfusions forbidden by the Witnesses. For the first time, she finds she can't make her decision without visiting the patient. She is entranced with his beauty, intelligence, willingness to die for the principles of his faith, which he defends with great articulateness and passion. He reads her his poetry, and plays the violin, which he's learned passably in only four weeks. She recognizes one of the songs he plays, and she sings it to his accompaniment. He's delighted. He asks her to come visit again, appearing to believe they'll be friends. I won't give the spoiler of the decision she makes, but it's momentous for them both. I didn't think I'd read McEwan until looking through his listings to rate this one, to find I'd read "Atonement." I remembered the book, just not the title. Now I'll read others. A tone of sadness hangs most of "The Children Act" except for that interview between Fiona and Adam in the hospital. The writing is definitely top notch, and I read it in 24 hours.

Jan 14, 2016

Very thought provoking about moral issues. Well written and absorbing.

Jan 01, 2016

Interesting diatribes of the health decision of young adults, the influence of adults.
Well written as usual.
I found the marital parallel story is a bit artificial, as well as the part of the young boy following the judge outside of the city.

patcumming Aug 28, 2015

This is a highly thought provoking book that presents a number of moral dilemmas. Fiona is an multi-faceted character and the layers of ambiguity make this a good choice for Book Clubs.

Jul 02, 2015

I quite liked the spare writing in this little book. Fiona Maye is a leading high court judge handling cases in the family court. She has many years experience and is now asked to pronounce on an urgent case. After careful consideration she delivers a verdict that she is convinced best fulfills the Children Act directive to ensure the welfare of the child. Consequences always arise and, in this instance, the case is not over for her. Fiona has always been in control of her predictable ordered life but now she must come to terms and deal with upsetting upheavals. The story proceeds at a measured pace marching to an ending that I expected. For me, a satisfying conclusion to an engaging story.

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