A brilliant, emotionally wrenching new novel from the author of Atonement and Amsterdam.
Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child's welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts. But Fiona's professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears.
She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a 17-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah's Witnesses. But Jack doesn't leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case - as well as her crumbling marriage - tests Fiona in ways that will keep listeners thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.
©2014 Ian McEwan (P)2014 Random House Audio
Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.
Thank you, Ian McEwan, for writing exactly the book I've looked forward to for many months. Rationalism, science, biology, logic, law, and the absence of unnecessary drama and hyperbole are all things I prize in life, and it was a real pleasure to have them written so incredibly well in the character of Fiona Maye in The Children Act. Fiona is an English High Court judge in the Family Division who must decide the fate of Adam Henry, a 17-year-old Jehovah's Witness who has leukemia and is refusing a life-saving transfusion. Fiona is also dealing with a crisis in her personal life; her husband Jack has announced to her that “I love you, but before I drop dead, I want one big passionate affair.”
Some of the best parts of The Children Act are the beautifully reasoned details of several of Fiona's decisions. In her judgements, she tries to bring “reasonableness to hopeless situations.” Her decision in Adam's case has consequences that affect Fiona's personal life, and part of the miracle of this book is that McEwan writes this human drama without TV movie dramatics or bashing of religious beliefs. This is the first book I've read by Ian McEwan, and I'll approach some of his other books with a bit of trepidation, but The Children Act is about as close to perfection in a novel as I've ever read.
I can find a book to love in any genre -- a beautifully written classic, an interesting mystery or sci-fi, a trashy romance. Bring it!
STORY (fiction) - I wouldn't put this in the suspense/mystery/thriller category as Audible has. It's a lovely work of character development, set in England sometime probably early 2000's. Fiona is 59 and a high court judge who presides over difficult cases of family law. One such case involves Adam, a boy who will die without the blood transfusion that his religion will not allow. Fiona is overworked and tired...and her husband has met a younger woman.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story, but it may not be for everyone. There is lots of legal discussion as Fiona works through her decisions and talks with other barristers, and there is not a lot of happiness in the story. Adam's case is ethically complicated, and his condition is serious. I'm not saying the book is sad...it's just deep. Fiona's character is exquisitely developed, and I love how the author imparts profound meaning to simple actions and gestures. The ending is very good.
PERFORMANCE - Lindsay Duncan does a great job. She has the perfect voice for Fiona the judge and injured wife, yet, on the other hand, the voice and emotions of 17-year-old Adam.
OVERALL - No cursing, violence or sex. Recommended for listeners who can appreciate beautiful writing and deep characters.
Avid reader of classics and fiction, history and well-written genre novels. Music lover and huge audiobook fan.
I really enjoyed this book, as I have all of the Ian McEwan novels I have read. His writing is excellent and he examines meaningful subjects without the posturing and self-consciousness I find irritating in much of contemporary literary fiction.
I rated the narration a "5" because it reminds me of the wonderful Juliet Stevenson narration for 'Sweet Tooth', and 'Middlemarch' and many of the Jane Austen novels. I had not heard Lindsay Duncan before but I will seek out other of her narrations in the future. She enunciates really well and has a very pleasing voice and tone without affectation.
The focus of this book is the distinction between morality and religious faith and the dilemma of legal justice at the center of these tensions when the court must decide between the arguments of one parent vs. another in a divorce case where the parents have different religious beliefs, where medical decisions counter to a family's religious beliefs on behalf of children are appealed to a court by a hospital and where other weighty decisions of the family courts involve choices made for others based on laws and made by humans in all their imperfections.
The book itself is fascinating and benefits even more from the excellent narrator. Many other books address some of the topical issues in this book, but many are quite manipulative and sensational. What is appealing about this particular book is the author's attempt to deal with these topics without whipping up the passions of righteousness and emotion but through examining the ways in which a judge attempts to do right by those on whose behalf he/judges.
I rated the narration better than the overall book because somehow the ending didn't feel like the rest of the book. I am not sure the author was entirely successful at blending the personal life of the judge and her involvement in the life of the child at the center of the novel. I felt that much more tension was built up than actually was resolved by the ending - I don't want to disclose too much but I didn't feel as engaged by the ending as I was by most of the book. That said, I am already thinking about listening again.
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
Fiona Maye is a British judge assigned to child welfare cases. One of her more recent cases has involved deciding against the parents of conjoined siamese twins who shared vital organs. One of the twins had chances of surviving if the twins were separated, while the other was sure to die. If they were not separated, both would have died. The parents wanted to let God and nature take their course. Fiona made the decision to let the stronger twin have a chance at life. Fiona's difficult professional life has had repercussions on her long-term marriage. Now nearing sixty, she no longer craves intimacy with her husband after all the accumulated stress. Her husband on the other hand decides what he needs is one last grand passion and wants to have his cake and eat it too, so tells Fiona he'd like to have an affair with a young woman, yet keep the marriage intact, which doesn't suit Fiona in the least.
Then another complicated case falls in her lap. A young Jehova's Witness, not yet eighteen years old, the age of medical consent in England, is urgently in need of blood transfusions. The hospital has made an appeal to the court, as without the transfusions, the leukemia he suffers from is bound to kill him in a painful way. Both the parents and Adam, the young man himself, are against the procedure on religious grounds, though the parents ultimately leave the choice in Adam's hands. For reasons she doesn't quite understand herself, Fiona feels compelled to make the trip to the hospital and meet Adam in person to see what should be done, and eventually persuades him to go through with the procedure. The consequences will have far-reaching consequences.
This was a very good book and ultimately seemed to me more about relationships and the impact individuals have upon each other than about medical and legal issues, which ultimately, was much more interesting to me. Excellent narration by Lindsay Duncan—I would gladly listen to more audiobooks read by her.
Half way thru and still don't know what the point of the story is really. It's just been hours and hours of the judge's musings about why or why not she should save the boy's life and just how boring her marriage has become. There seems to be no real story to it and it just goes on and on and on with the same monotone musings of this particular judge. I just can't finish it.
McEwan's latest novel initially had me captivated, but something--mainly, my interest--got a little lost along the way. Fiona Maye, a British judge who decides cases involving child welfare, has just reached a number of difficult and controversial decisions. One concerned the custody of two young girls whose parents belong to a strict Jewish sect. Unable to bear more children, the mother enrolled in open university classes and began to pursue a career, becoming more "worldly" in the process, much to the dismay of her husband. The second was the case of conjoined twins, one of whom could survive if they were separated; if not, both were doomed to die. The hospital asked the court to intervene because the parents believed that whatever happened was God's will. Now, sitting on her desk, is yet another difficult case. Adam Henry, just three months shy of his majority (18), suffers from leukemia, but he and his parents, who are Jehovah's Witnesses, reject the blood transfusions that could save his life. In making her decision, Fiona tries to keep focused strictly on the letter of the law, the sanctity of individual faith, and the welfare of the child in question. However, her ability to keep her professional life separate from her personal life quavers when she meets Adam, a sensitive, self-assured, intelligent young man.
For in the midst of all this, Fiona's marriage has begun to fall apart. Her husband announces that, with her permission, he would like to have an affair while he is still capable, complaining that she has no interest in sex and is just no fun anymore. He also feels that she has become closed off and is keeping things to herself that he wishes she would share. Fiona begins to contemplate the past: what she has given up for the sake of her career, including having children of her own.
In some ways, I would have been happier had the novel ended with Fiona's decision, or perhaps with Adam's letter in response to it. But, as is usual for McEwan, things take a detour that is a bit off kilter. Of course, this leads to more self-analysis on Fiona's part--another hallmark of McEwan's work. In this regard, 'The Children Act' is somewhat reminiscent of another brief novel, On Chesil Beach.
All in all, this was an engaging read up to the rather muddled, unsatisfactory conclusion. Definitely worth reading, but not among McEwan's best. If you haven't read 'Atonement' or 'On Chesil Beach', pick those up first.
As in Amsterdam, McEwan takes a modern culture wars conundrum and subjects it to a real-world case study - and uses it as a foil for his main characters to test where they are in life and evolve, or not. His two main characters - Fiona (a family law judge dealing with a marriage crisis) and Adam (an almost-adult Jehovah's Witness who needs a forbidden blood transfusion to survive) are well-developed and complex characters. I was disappointed in her doofus of a husband, having a really stupid mid-life crisis and only painted two-dimensionally by McEwan, but perhaps it's because he really didn't matter in the story except to drive a crisis for Fiona. A solid, good book. Highly engaging and good narration and production in the audio version.
English major. Love to read
This book is one of my all time favorite audible selections -- aside from what I love - good characters, strong story, excellent narration - it came at a time when I was hungry for exquisite writing. I found it here. I have listened to the last hour four times just because the subtle, elegant prose describing a musical presentation is the best I have read in years.
I knew nothing about Ian McEwan and now come to find most people nodding when I tell them about this amazing writer. If you have read McEwan, read this one because I have no doubt it is one of his best; if you have never read him, a new world will ope up to you as it has to me. All of you are in for a treat.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,
Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben,
Sie hat so lange von mir nichts vernommen,
Sie mag wohl glauben, ich sei gestorben.
Es ist mir auch gar nichts daran gelegen,
Ob sie mich für gestorben hält,
Ich kann auch gar nichts sagen dagegen,
Denn wirklich bin ich gestorben der Welt.
Ich bin gestorben dem Weltgewimmel,
Und ruh' in einem stillen Gebiet.
Ich leb' allein in mir und meinem Himmel,
In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied.
-- Friedrich Rückert, text for Mahler's Fünf Rückert-Lieder, no. 5.
I love how certain writers (think Murakami, Barnes, Gass, Powers, McEwan, etc) weave music into their prose. Music, obviously plays a large part of 'The Children Act'. The US edition has four strings vertically cutting the book in half, drawn across a falling drop of blood with f-shaped holes creating an instrument of blood and book. If you want to know where to start looking for ideas, images, and themes for this book, the cover is as good a hint as you are going to get.
The funny thing about this book, independent of the musical images and scenes, the size and structure also made me think of it as musical a piece. Fiona Maye playing against her husband, playing against Adam, playing often solo. She is precise, delicate, careful and thoughtful. She is the law. I often think of these small British novels as concertos, sonatas, or duets. Especially books by Banville, McEwan, Barnes. With each of these authors, the careful prose is almost classically musical. They are each masters of short, powerful, deceptively simple prose that often easily knocks me on my ass. Hell, this one even had five chapters. I wouldn't have been surprised if Chapter 1 was titled Andante (it wasn't, of course).
Anyway, this novel made me cry. It made me cry NOT because it was a manipulative tear jerker, but rather because it was beautiful, sad, and tight. It was a well written and performed piece. I would go into greater descriptive detail, and even right now as I type this am tempted to, but that would rob the next reader of some of the beauty, sadness, and surprise. Oh, and speaking of surprise. I have been working through a recently purchased boxset of Mahler's complete works and was playing disc 8, which strangely contains the lied mentioned obliquely (one line of the lieder's poem) in this book. I only discovered the coincidence just now as I researched which Mahler piece was performed in the book. I love the Universe, the music it makes, the notes it brings together, and how all songs (both happy and sad) eventually, quietly end.
Inside look at the personal dynamics of the British judicial system.
No, but it surely kept me well seated!
Even the best decisions can drag you down in a heartbeat.
Looking forward to Atonement ...
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