Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in the London Family Court, a distinguished professional and well known for having a cool head. That is until her husband, Jack, announces that he is about to start an affair with a younger woman. Jack has many reasons why he is entitled to this affair and why she should give him her blessing. Fiona is understandably shocked and humiliated, lashing out at Jack and letting him walk out of their home. She is relieved to be pulled away from this devastating blow by an emergency hearing for a teenage boy who is refusing a life-saving blood transfusion because his family is Jehovah’s Witness. With time of the essence, Fiona diligently turns her focus to the case and hears both sides, but makes a last-minute decision to visit the boy in person. Adam, the sick teenage boy, is as greatly affected by the visit as Fiona. She is taken with his youth, talent and obvious potential, while Adam is equally smitten with Fiona, wanting to both please and impress her. Fiona rules confidently on the controversial case, but has set into motion a breakdown between her personal and public life that will have tragic consequences.
The Children Act is a tightly written novel about a woman who appears strong and capable on the outside, but is a self-doubting mess on the inside. I found it fascinating to read Fiona’s narration as she tries to keep it together, but is so tangled up in the confusing web of her emotions. This is a woman who has always been in control and is desperate to hold onto it.
While the plot concerning Adam and the controversial court case is suspenseful, ultimately there are no major twists or turns in The Children Act. If anything, I think readers will predict the story’s outcome many, many chapters before its end. I sure did.
I had the impression The Children Act was going to explore the legal and moral issues of Adam’s case and what is or is not Fiona’s responsibility to Adam after their personal connection. However, the book only touches on these issues and is chiefly centered on Fiona’s neurosis, which I didn’t mind; I just thought Ian McEwan was going to go much deeper in what is obviously a very well-researched story. Although I’ve read that he has written much better stories than The Children Act, I really enjoyed my first Ian McEwan’s novel.