The Children Act by Ian McEwan

I somehow missed out on the Ian McEwan prescription doled out to English Literature sixth-formers nation-wide. While my brother brought home Atonement and Enduring Love and On Chesil Beach in succession, my own teacher was more of a Margaret Atwood/Kate Atkinson fan, and so my first encounter with McEwan didn’t take place until 2014, almost a decade after leaving school. I think it’s better that way. Spending months analysing the same paragraphs ad nauseam, breaking sentences down into their constituent parts – it has to be the most surefire method of sucking the life out of a story (and has left me with a lifelong reluctance towards Alice Walker).

So, all this is to say that I’m glad I was left to find McEwan of my own accord. (Or near enough, anyway. Sweet Tooth was a selection at my monthly book group, and I loved it. A fun spy caper about a lady spy! What wasn’t to enjoy?) The Children Act didn’t disappoint either. It’s essentially a character study, but not in the dry imagined sense of stuporous English classrooms. In it, we follow High Court judge Fiona Maye through a mis-step in her marriage, and a case involving a seventeen-year-old Jehovah’s Witness refusing a life-saving blood transfusion. McEwan’s mastery of the legal system was impressive, and all the cases touched on had a compelling human element.

The Children Act isn’t a long book, but in its scant 240 pages, it made me care about its characters and this deftly presented slice of their lives. I could happily have read much more, but then the story was perfectly proportioned as told. I’ll definitely be back for more McEwan in future.

[Read from 5-8 November 2016]

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