In his latest novel, Ian McEwan has tackled once again, family life. This time approaching it from the perspective of the law. Fiona Maye, a leading High Court judge, mostly operating in the Family Law Courts adjudicates on such sensitive and painful cases when, for example, religion and medicine clash, or when a medical procedure will have an outcome favourable in one case but not always in another. The Children Act, which has altered the legal framework upon which such decisions rest has made her legal brief more nuanced, more weighted towards the condition, needs and welfare of the child, but it has not made it any easier.
The Children Act, which is the title of the novel, finds Fiona at a crisis point in her own personal life, her husband seems to be hell-bent on a path of destruction, her work/life balance, her age and several other things seem to be sapping her of strength and purpose.
So in the middle of all this, this fierce, intelligent, sensitive woman does something which later she profoundly regrets.
During the adjudication of a contest between people of a strict religious creed and a child with a life threatening illness, she makes the subject personal. In the course of her decision, Fiona visits Adam in hospital and so ties a thread that both knits and unravels during the course of the rest of the book.
This novel does not have the searing agony of, say, The Child in Time or the adrenalin rush of Enduring Love; it is more measured than either; it is however, Mr McEwan back on form in spades. It may not be his best book, but it is a great deal better than the last four or five. I might not put it on the same shelf as Amsterdam for which he won the (then) Booker Prize and in my view one of his finest novels but it is better by far than Saturday or any of the following four. His novels have been short listed many times for prizes, and he has won numerous other awards for writing. His early books (novels and short stories) were macabre and fascinating; his historical novels are researched diligently and deliver a new perspective on the times he is writing about; his understanding of the frailties and foibles of humanity is deep, sensitive and perspicacious, even a bad book by Ian McEwan is worth reading. So catch up people! This is one of the best contemporary British writers.