Well, this is strange, writing a post on a Friday night. It's supposed to be a gorgeous weekend, my husband is away, and I finished the Ian McEwan book a couple of days ago so I wanted to write about it before I got too far into a new book and forgot why I loved it so much.
I didn't get much reading done last Sunday, as it turned out to be a fabulous "outside" day. But I did manage to get a start on McEwan's novel, The Children Act. I always enjoy his novels, although sometimes I have to ruminate on them for a bit after reaching the last page before coming to that conclusion - this happened with On Chesil Beach, which I at first thought was a waste of my time, but then decided was brilliant. The trick with McEwan is to realize that he is a master at the short novel, and what ground he does not cover in terms of time or events he more than makes up for in personal meaning, emotional significance, and reflections on the human condition. He is a master at writing about the minutae of daily life and suffusing it with significance, until we as readers are brought inside the main characters' heads and experience his or her thoughts and feelings. Case in point, Fiona Mayle, High Court judge and main character in The Children Act. As the novel opens, Fiona is facing the potential breakdown of her thirty-year marriage with husband Jack. Both are in the “twilight years” of their careers and Jack feels that he must take a bold step before it’s too late. Fiona is distracted from their “not-quite-argument” by a call from the court advising her that a time-sensitive case involving the son of a Jehovah’s Witness couple who is in hospital with leukemia and refusing the blood transfusion necessary to complete his treatment has been assigned to her and will be scheduled for early the next morning. Complicating the case is the age of the patient, 17 years and 9 months, that legal “gray area” where he is not quite old enough to decide his fate, but possibly old enough to make decisions regarding his future in an informed and intelligent way. Fiona hears the arguments of the parents, the social worker/guardian, and the hospital regarding Adam’s condition and the potential outcome of the treatment if he does not receive a blood transfusion. Despite the arguments by the parents and the social worker, Fiona is not satisfied with their view that Adam’s refusal is truly his own idea, uninfluenced by parents or other prominent religious figures in his life, and decides to go to the hospital to meet Adam herself. During her visit with this beautiful, intelligent, talented young man, Fiona experiences unexpected emotions that radiate from deep within herself. Adam, too, responds to Fiona intensely as they share an experience together that will prove to affect them both in their own ways. When she returns to court after the visit that same evening to present her ruling, she could not have foreseen how profoundly this decision would affect the lives of all involved. I can’t say any more without giving the story away, but suffice it so say that this novel lives up to the expectations one may have for McEwan’s work. Now, it does not exceed expectation, at least for me, but considering the bar is already set so high, that would be a difficult feat. I got this book last weekend, and there were coincidentally two reviews in the local paper for this novel, well, one by a local reviewer and one in the New York Times insert. The local reviewer seemed to enjoy and appreciate it, but the New York Times reviewer was more than a little critical of this novel, even though he was clearly a fan of McEwan’s writing. After reading the NYT review, I was slightly worried as I opened the book, but I’ve decided that the reviewer didn’t know what he was talking about. I found similar themes running through this novel as earlier works by the author, such as potential marital breakdown (A Child in Time), obsession (Enduring Love), and the possibility that profound moments with total strangers can sometimes change lives (Saturday). McEwan manages to convey to the reader not just the events of a character’s daily life as they pertain to the plot, but the emotion accompanying these events, until we know we will never experience certain things the same way again. And don’t be fooled by the length of the novel – it may only be just over 200 pages, but each page is filled with such a mastery of language that you may need to reread sections just to make sure you’ve taken it all in. And while you will want to read it slowly and savour each and every word, it will be the kind of book you won’t be able to put down. So enjoy!
I’ve barely started the selection for next week’s book club meeting, Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery, very different from The Children Act, but hope to make good headway this weekend, despite the forecast of great “Indian Summer” weather.
Bye for now…
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