When a court determines any question with respect to … the upbringing of a child … the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration. —SECTION 1( A), THE CHILDREN ACT, 1989 (Epigraph)
British High Court judge Fiona Maye sees a lot of unhappiness in the Family Division where she has to decide the fates of children who have been abused, are the subject of custody battles and so on. The case which concerns her throughout this book is when the parents’ Jehovah’s Witness beliefs regarding blood transfusions interfere with the *necessary* medical treatment of their teen-age son – even when the boy is really a young man and only a few weeks shy of being an adult at which time he could make his own decision.
At home Fiona is involved in her own domestic issues, her husband of many years just now leaves her for a younger woman. Fiona may be a wise and compassionate judge, McEwan goes to great lengths to show that, but she is also suddenly an abandoned 50-something year-0ld woman. Hearing the arguments, visiting the boy to see for herself, and deciding the case has a disturbing and lasting effect.
It’s the character of Fiona, her desires, loves, shame, which are the center of the novel. This is the story of a passionate woman who has been wearing the sedate robes of justice for a long time.
I’ve read quite a lot of McEwan’s work over the course of maybe twenty years and he’s changed. The early works were so intense and full of suspense but after Amsterdam he changed to a more literary styling. Atonement got him the fame and On Chisel Beach was a marvel. My favorite of his book is Black Dogs, my least favorite is Sweet Tooth. I suppose that The Children Act is somewhere in the middle.