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.
Love books! Classics and lighter fiction, mysteries (not too violent please :-). And selective non-fiction--whatever takes my fancy.
A very well-written book. Ian McEwan has created a chance to delve into several ethical dilemmas, both personal and professional, in the life and profession of British High Court Judge Fiona--who is dealing with a crisis in her marriage to Jack, while having to deal with life and death decisions she must make in Family Court.
There are several court cases explored, but the main one involves her need to rule on a case in which a young man, whose family are Jehovah's Witnesses--and do not believe in blood transfusions. Can he be legally forced to get the treatment, which could save his life--but which might go against the wishes of even the teenager himself?
The cases are interesting, and she is a good character study--as one wonders how things would be different if she was not as cool-headed and distanced as she is. This is a book that I think explores the emotional reach of a woman who, while doing what she must, enters into situations that will stretch her own emotional depths.
I’m used to juxtaposing justice with mercy. That’s the conventional formula. In this, utterly skillful novel, McEwan changes the equation slightly so that justice finds itself in competition with love. It’s two of the cardinal virtues weighed against each other through the experiences of the all-too human Fiona Maye, a British family court judge known for her brilliant decisions. She takes as paramount the central claim of the decree referenced in the title – the Children Act – that the welfare of a child should always be paramount in any legal deliberation.
Before the novel begins, Fiona’s life has a kind of perfection to it. She is an acclaimed jurist, and her husband, an energetic classics professor, seems like her ideal match. The two are equally accomplished, and they’ve built a comfortable life together. It turns out it’s too comfortable, though, when her husband announces he intends to have an affair with a younger woman. He seems to be telling her in advance, asking for a kind of permission or shocking her into renewed passion in their marriage. As it is, he tells her, all marriages aspire to condition of siblinghood, and he feels more like a brother to her than a husband.
At the same time as her marriage crumbles, she finds herself with a challenging case: a 17 years and three months old boy has leukemia. He’s from a family of Jehova’s Witnesses, so they refuse medical treatment for him. Once Adam reaches 18, he can make the decision himself, but until then Fiona has to weigh the competing claims. She chooses a kind of powerful justice, one that flies in the face of religious absolutism but that takes faith seriously as a reasonable motive.
What follows is complicated, and I don’t want to risk a [SPOILER] without warning. Fiona, acting as dispassionately as she can under her personal emotional turmoil, inadvertently unleashes the demand for love from the Adam. He sees her as someone who has allowed him to glimpse a wider, more cosmopolitan world, and he wants her to play a kind of mother figure to him. Fiona and her husband have never had children, though – a decision incidental to her commitment to her judicial career – and, in the wake of their break-up and clumsy reunion, she feels her childlessness like never before. In one of the many superb passages of the book, she imagines how the children they might have had would have reacted: they’d have gathered around the kitchen table, trying to talk sense into dad and trying to make mom realize she bore some of the blame. It’s a seemingly effortless sketch, yet it packs the wallop of some entire novels. It’s a cry for the love she gave up in order to serve justice as she has.
As the novel nears its end, Fiona realizes with ever greater clarity that she cannot love without sacrificing something of justice. Whether it means forgiving her husband (and, implicitly, forgoing her righteous sense of betrayal) or being present for Adam and compromising her role as a judge, she simply cannot contain both virtues simultaneously.
You know you’re in capable hands from the moment you read the opening pages. I think I read McEwan’s Atonement 20 or so years ago, around the time it came out, and even though I’ve forgotten the particulars of the book, I found a familiar excellence of skill as soon as I started reading this. McEwan writes with true clarity: a clarity not just of language and character, but of moral terminology as well. You know right away that this is about something, that it isn’t merely a story of interesting characters (though it is that as well).
The final scene here is nothing short of a masterpiece. It carries the same emotional weight (and, I’d insist, speaks indirectly to) the climax of James Joyce’s “The Dead.” I don’t make that comparison lightly: McEwan may not be quite as efficient here as Joyce is there, but the result is that good. Two flawed humans realize how small they are beside the weight of others’ passions, but they realize as well some of their capacity to lighten each other’s burden, to offer love as a salve to the necessary weakness of all of us.
I might have wished for a little more consistency from Adam as a character (there is a little convenience to the way his passions swing back and forth), but it’s hard to imagine any other fault in this one. I knew of McEwan as one of the world’s great living writers before I picked this up. Reputation confirmed.
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