Wednesday, December 31, 2014

#63 [2014/CBR6] "The Children Act" by Ian McEwan

Even though they are drastically different authors, I often think of Ian McEwan and Cormac McCarthy together. It is a mystery to me how they compose such original and compelling stories. I greatly admire them both and try to read everything they write. So I knew I'd be reading The Children Act (2014) by Ian McEwan as soon as I saw it on bookshelves.

Fiona Maye is a 59-year-old woman and a leading High Court judge in London. She is smart, professional, and exacting: clear, truthful, and concise in her court opinions and a fantastic pianist. For a long time, she has practiced great control over her life as well as the lives of those who come before her court. Adam, a 17-year-old Jehovah's witness is seeking court approval to deny a life-saving blood transfusion (with the approval of his parents) because it is against his religion. At the same time, Fiona's husband is sexually frustrated and comes to her, seeking something of an open relationship--an encounter that  shakes Fiona's stable world as well as how she thinks of herself.

"A professional life spent above the affray, advising, then judging, loftily commenting in private on the viciousness and absurdity of divorcing couples, and now she was down there with the rest, swimming with the desolate tide." (53)

The story follows Fiona, her decision with Adam's case and the repercussions as well as how her personal life unfolds. I was very impressed how McEwan captured Fiona's legal career. Although I'm not familiar with British law, as an American lawyer, Fiona's opinions and thoughts felt very realistic and carefully captured. I was impressed by his research. I was also very impressed by the reality and tension of a long-married couple, frustrated and hurt with each other and unable to talk about their real issues. Their interactions and fragile detente were frustrating to read because it was so well done. There seemed to be more in what they weren't saying to each other than their actual words.

What struck me as I read this book was the discrepancy between focusing on these tiny details and little decisions that make such a great difference in each person's life in contrast with the very real lack of control and meaninglessness of it all when you look at the big picture. Fiona has perfect control over her piano, playing a masterful concert even while she discovers the truth that she really has no control. She may have been able to prevent this tragedy, but a number of small decisions had a huge impact. She has the last word and directs people's lives in her court cases, but in the end, the control she has is an illusion. Yet the book points out that even these personal tragedies will be meaningless in years to come.

"Blind luck, to arrive in the world with your properly formed parts in the right place, to be born to parents who were loving, not cruel, or to escape, by geographical or social accident, war or poverty. And therefore to find it so much easier to be virtuous." (pp. 31-32)

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