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The Children Act, by Ian McEwan

BY James Walton

1st Jan 2015 Book Reviews

The Children Act, by Ian McEwan

Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge, presiding over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now, her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.

At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: for religious reasons, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, Adam, is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents share his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely held faith?

The Children Act 

by Ian McEwan (Cape, £14.99; ebook, £9.99)

The Children Act, Ian McEwan



In Ian McEwan’s latest novel, the main character is once again a highly cultured London professional—in this case Fiona Maye, a high-court judge specialising in family law. Its principal theme is also familiar: the superiority of scientific thinking to the childish superstition of religion. 

This comes to a head in a court hearing about Adam, a miraculously intelligent 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, who’s refusing the blood transfusions that could save his life. Now Fiona has to decide whether his wishes should be respected.  

The Children Act has plenty of strengths. McEwan has obviously done his homework on family law. He’s good too on the sudden breakdown of Fiona’s own marriage.What undermines the book, though, is mostly McEwan’s failure to obey the chief rule of a work like this, which is to give your opponents some decent arguments of their own. In a 2005 interview, he admitted to having “no patience whatsoever” with religion, and here it certainly shows.

The result is a slightly shrill novel of campaigning atheism—and, as such, no more satisfying than a slightly shrill novel of campaigning Christianity would be. 

Read more articles by James Walton here