The Children Act by Ian McEwan

23482832Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge, presiding over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now, her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.

At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: for religious reasons, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, Adam, is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents share his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely held faith? In the course of reaching a decision Fiona visits Adam in hospital – an encounter which stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.

Whilst I know Ian McEwan isn’t everyone cup of tea, I have to say he is mine.  I haven’t read as many of his novels as I would have liked but I’ve enjoyed each one and always found them to be not what I expected when I started reading.  The same is the case with The Children’s Act, which left me feeling bereft when I was done because I hadn’t realised how connected to Fiona and Adam I had become and how much I had bought into their stories and lives.

On the surface, Fiona is not that likeable.  She is completely focused on her career, to the detriment of her marriage and her life.  She isn’t unhappy but she is living in a bubble that no one can seem to burst.  Part of her knows this but she doesn’t seem willing or able to make a change till her husband forces one on her, and into making decisions she might not normally have made…which in turn leads her to becoming more involved with Adam, a teenager at the centre of a potentially controversial case.

You can see the dominos falling and the tragedy unfolding yet no one seems able to step far enough outside themselves to stop it – and it is this that meant I ended up having a lot of sympathy for Fiona.   Because the dominos were falling long before her husband drops his bombshell; they started when she put her job before becoming a mother – something she has come to regret and is underlying in all her behaviours.  McEwan introduces the theme subtly and weaves it through Fiona’s story really well – never beating you over the head with it.

Adam has his own regrets, even though he is young.  He has been sheltered and protected by his parents and his church and Fiona’s entry into his life opens his eyes to the wider world, but one he’s not prepared for.  He looks for answers in her that he no longer finds in his God – answers it seems impossible she will be able to provide, no matter how much she might want to.  They are both so lost and I felt for them because of this.

That McEwan can do this, completely draw me in, when I didn’t know if I liked the characters is a testament to his writing, which I always find seems simple on the surface but somehow leaves me feeling quite exhausted by the end, realising I have been putting all my energies into reading.  He manages to create completely believable worlds (at least for me) and put me in the middle of them – which is why I should read more of his books and means that I loved this one.  Highly recommended.





  1. I’ve had this one on my to read pile for ages, will definitely move it to the top of the list! Thanks 🙂

    1. I did too – I got it out of the library three times before I read it. Then finished it in just over a day.

  2. I decided not to read this one based on several reviews which weren’t as complimentary as yours despite Atonement bring one of my favourite reads of all time. You have me reconsidering 😊

    1. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and it isn’t atonement (which made me cry) so it’s a hard one in that sense. I can see why people don’t like it but they definitely won’t if they compare books.

  3. I loved Atonement but I didn’t like Sweet Tooth as much… I don’t know about this haha

    1. A few people have said this. I loved atonement too but haven’t read Sweet Tooth. I’m not sure I want to. 😕

  4. I haven’t read this one – I loved Atonement and Enduring Love – but hurled Chesil Beach across the room in utter fury. So I’m giving him a miss on account of my blood pressure for the time being. Having said that, your excellent review is making me think again. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Oh I loved Chesil Beach. So funny how we can get affected by authors in different ways – even if it’s to throw a book across a room. I wouldn’t compare this to either book if that helps? 😀

      1. And that’s the beauty of reading… It is essentially such a very private, personal affair. You and the text. So your state of mind, own experiences and preferences all come to bear on what kind of story you like – and loathe. And no one else will ever have exactly the same opinions:)). Maybe I’ll give The Children Act a go – he is definitely a Marmite author, so I know I won’t feel indifferent to it!

        1. It absolutely is. Even when I think someone might like something I am never sure. There is always a gift receipt with the books I buy.

  5. Not ever read this author but I am not sure if I could handle this one or not. The subject matter it could make me mad or glad or in between but sort of curious…lol.

    1. Frustrated maybe at so many lost chances…but don’t we all have those?

  6. I’m loving this book and will probably finish later today. Great review!!

    1. It isn’t what I expected I have to say but in a good way. Glad you are enjoying too.

  7. I loved Atonement, but not Sweet Tooth. So I picked this one up with some trepidation, but the premise and the subject matter won out…and I’m glad. I loved this one! Thanks for sharing, and I’m glad you enjoyed it, too.

    1. Atonement is of my favourite books if all time and On Chesil Beach. I haven’t read Sweet Tooth but will at some point.

  8. I like McEwan too though I haven’t read all his books I have read several. I still have Sweet Tooth tbr and really want to read this.

    1. I don’t know why I haven’t read more. He is one of the only authors that has ever made me cry so maybe I can’t cope with too much high emotion?

  9. I love when an author can pull you into the world he has created and make you believe. Wonderful review!

    1. Thank you. I think it is so hard to take you to a place and keep you there, even with a difficult subject.

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