First edition (UK)
|Cover artist||Gilles Peress|
|Publisher||Jonathan Cape (UK)|
Nan A. Talese (US)
|2 Sept 2014 (UK)|
9 Sept 2014 (US)
The Children Act is a novel by the English writer Ian McEwan, published on 2 September 2014. The title is a reference to the Children Act 1989, a UK Act of Parliament. It has been compared to Charles Dickens' Bleak House, with its similar settings, and opening lines.
Fiona Maye is a respected High Court Judge specialising in Family Law and living in Gray's Inn Square. While reviewing a case, she is approached by her husband, Jack, who tells her that because of their lack of physical intimacy he would like to embark on a sexual affair, with her permission, with a 28 year old statistician. Fiona is horrified and refuses to agree to the terms. She had developed a horror of the body after presiding over a case in which she ruled that conjoined twins should be separated despite the fact that one twin would immediately die due to her verdict. Though her peers lauded her elegant solution to the case, Fiona is privately troubled by it but nevertheless refuses to share this detail with Jack. In the middle of their fight Fiona receives a call about an emergency case of a young teen with leukemia who refuses a blood transfusion as a member of Jehovah's Witnesses. Jack leaves the apartment.
Going to work Fiona finds herself pondering her marriage, her childlessness (in part due to her dedication to her career). Impulsively she decides to change the locks to her home despite knowing that this is illegal. Returning home she realizes that Jack has not returned or tried to contact her.
The following day Fiona hears arguments for the case involving Adam, the young Jehovah's Witness. As he is only three months shy of his 18th birthday Fiona decides to visit him in the hospital to try to ascertain whether he is capable of denying treatment or not. She finds him a precocious and kind boy and he reads her poetry and plays a tune on his violin with her, with Fiona joining him by singing to his playing in an encore. Returning to court she rules that the hospital be allowed to give him the blood transfusion. Feeling elated with her decision she walks home and, upon returning, discovers that Jack has returned feeling foolish about his attempts to leave her. Fiona realizes that everything will eventually go back to normal and ultimately is disappointed that he returned at a time when she was happy and actually anticipating being alone.
Months later Fiona's marriage is still tense. She begins to receive letters, at first at her work, and later at her apartment, from Adam Henry, telling her he is now grateful for her ruling and that he sees the hypocrisy in his parents and has become disillusioned with religion. Fiona decides to ignore the letters. Travelling to Newcastle to oversee local cases, she is surprised to find that Adam has followed her there, desperate to talk to her. Adam eventually confesses that he has left home and wants to live with Fiona. She refuses his request and tells him to call his mother. Arranging for a taxi and a train ticket she goes to kiss him on the cheek goodbye, but the two end up kissing on the lips. Panicked after the kiss, Fiona calls her husband to arrange for dinner when she returns and the two begin to reconcile.
Returning home Fiona and Jack slowly grow closer. Fiona receives another letter from Adam, a religious poem, which implies that he thinks of her as Satan for tempting him away from religion and has returned to the faith. Like his other letters, Fiona ignores it.
Fiona prepares for a Christmas concert to be performed before her colleagues. The night before the concert she and Jack reconcile with a kiss and promise to dedicate themselves to each other anew. Going to the concert, before she performs, Fiona is informed that Adam has died after his leukemia returned and he refused treatment, now being of the age of majority. Fiona performs at the concert and then runs home. When Jack returns she tells him of the case, the kiss, and his death, feeling guilty for kissing Adam and then turning him away causing him to go back to his religious convictions. She falls asleep crying in her own bed, but when she wakes up Jack has followed her and he promises to love her as she reveals further details about her guilt.
Ian explains his inspiration in an essay he wrote for The Guardian which begins,
"Some years ago I found myself at dinner with a handful of judges - a bench is the collective noun. They were talking shop, and I was politely resisting the urge to take notes... How easily, I thought at the time, this bench could be mistaken for a group of novelists discussing each other's work, reserving harsher strictures for those foolish enough to be absent. At one point, our host, Sir Alan Ward, an appeal court judge, wanting to settle some mild disagreement, got up and reached from a shelf a bound volume of his own judgments. An hour later, when we had left the table for coffee, that book lay open on my lap. It was the prose that struck me first. Clean, precise, delicious. Serious, of course, compassionate at points, but lurking within its intelligence was something like humour, or wit, derived perhaps from its godly distance, which in turn reminded me of a novelist's omniscience."
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