London. Trinity term one week old. Implacable June weather.
–Ian McEwan - The Children Act - c.2014
Does religious belief outweigh the fight for survival? and if the one battling for life is a child, who gets to rule on what is, and isn’t, right? In The Children Act McEwan raises this question. Judge Fiona Maye is called upon to judge the case of a Jehovah’s Witness child who needs a blood transfusion to help save his life. His parents object, on religious grounds. The boy himself, although he is almost 18, not really a boy, also objects. He believes in his religion. He believes that it would be wrong to accept the blood of another, pollution of his own self.
And at the same time Maye has to deal with the fact that her own marriage may be ending.
This is a short novel, but if it hadn’t been a book club read I’m not sure I would have finished it. So much about the characters annoyed me. The husband, Jack, to start with. My god! what a selfish twit. He deserved such a slap. His first action in the novel is to ask for his wife’s consent to have passionate sex with another woman. Younger than himself and Maye, they are both in the sixties, of course. And when she denies him permission [ref]because, yeah, duh! that’s something that a couple really need to discuss with each other not just spring on the other partner[/ref] he goes an does it anyway. And acts as though she is the one in the wrong for not agreeing. After all, he still loves her! Bleaurgh is my considered opinion of Jack.
The fact that Jack is such an arse isn’t grounds, in itself, to dislike the novel. Plenty of disagreeable characters can make for interesting books. It is just that the rest of the book seems so stilted and cold. The story, although third person narrated, is all from Fiona Maye’s point of view. Yet I never felt that I knew her as a person. She was so distant and cold, even with herself. Although throughout the book there are hints that it could have been so much better. Hints that could have been developed into much more of a rounded character, and indeed a rounded story.
It reads like a book where the author felt he was being clever with the story, and there are plenty of clever lines and ideas in it, but it lacked heart and emotion. Although maybe that, in and of itself, is a comment on the legal world in which the events took place.