Posts filed under ‘February 2015 reads’

The Law and the Soul – The Children’s Act by Ian McEwan

The Children’s Act by Ian McEwan, Pubished in 2014. 

This book has been classified as a suspense novel, which is completely confusing to me.  Under this classification, I guess  cover225x225every book is a suspense novel if you don’t know exactly what will happen next. Arguably, not knowing what I am making for dinner, my life becomes a suspense story too, I guess. Regardless of bizarre classifications, I will say the writing in this book and the story is right in step with On Chesil Beach which is my favorite McEwan novel to date.

The book opens with the very successful London family law judge, Fiona Maye, sitting at the end of her weekend, scotch in hand, watching her thirty year marriage fall apart.  She is trying to finish up some work on a ruling for court, as her husband paces back and forth stating, calmly and then not so calmly, that he wants an open marriage and he hopes she is okay with that.  The conversation ends with a third scotch and a husband rolling his suitcase out the door.  Like all personal tragedies, life doesn’t stop, so Fiona must still get up Monday morning and behave competently and non-plussed for court. No one wants the judge hearing their divorce case crying over her own marriage.

While Fiona spends the day listening to a variety of family issues, she can’t help but check her phone and email to see if maybe her husband has found a conscience.  Of course, her disappointment when she doesn’t hear from him must be suppressed and she heads back out to try to sort out the law and how it applies to the families in her courtroom.  She is rationale, she is professional, she is capable.

It is when the case of Adam, a talented, poetic seventeen year old boy who is refusing a life saving blood transfusion citing religious grounds, comes to the bench that Fiona really starts to feel something.  Her feelings for this case are outside of the embarrassment of her failed marriage and her reasoned approach to the law.  Her connection to Adam, as she tries to determine what is best for him, is something unpredicted and uncontrollable.  It is chaste but profound and a bit unmooring for Fiona.  And even after her ruling, which I will not disclose here, she struggles with how the law can be rationale, but at the same time it can be soulless and perhaps misses the mark even if the decision is ultimately right.

McEwan has a careful dance in his prose. He does not condemn religious zealotry and he does not condemn the control the law can exercise over our lives.  He does a great job of teasing out the beauty and shortfalls in both.  He deftly creates the character of Fiona, who is ambitious, childless, brilliant, calculating, empathetic, and torn between her personal and professional struggles.  Like all of us in our weakest and best moments, she is seeking redemption and forgiveness.

As an important aside, Fiona is perhaps one of the best female characters I have met in a long time.  I liked her, but maybe even more importantly, even though I didn’t agree with all of her choices I respected her.  It was an odd and wonderful reading experience for that reason alone.  I hope to see more complex and relatable women characters in my reading future because now I know what I have been missing.   So dear writers, McEwan is on to something. Please take note.

Other reviews to check out:

From Kali Reads

From The Life of the Law

From 42 Life in Between  

February 22, 2015 at 3:53 pm 6 comments

Hello February and other reading news

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There is something painful about February for me. It is just cold and dark.  It is the last push from winter and the snow is no longer novel and fun.  And yes, I am whining.   But it does mean I hunker down and read a lot – because it is cold and dark and the snow is no longer fun.   Alas, I have neglected to share what I have been reading for over a month so here is another multi-book post.

I was all over the place this last month in my reading but I feel like with a lot of the books I read I was somehow missing key elements in the story.  Which for me makes for a frustrating reading experience.  Sometimes I do think this poor connection is my fault but sometimes I think the author just missed the boat.  So anyway this is where my reading has traveled over the last few weeks:

1. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi: Good grief, I found this book to be extremely dysfunctional.  Boy Novak is a girl (yep that is a fun twist) who is raised by her abusive father.  She runs away and tries to piece together a new life for herself.  She ends up marrying a man who has a beautiful, charming but seemingly vapid daughter named Snow.  When Boy gives birth to her own daughter, Bird, it becomes apparent that her husband has been hiding his African-American lineage.  And so the book becomes about our reflections of ourselves, our distorted views of others, our need for classifications.  I know, this sounds like a good idea right? But Oyeyemi just has no solid footing in her storytelling. It is an attempt to recreate and then deconstruct, or something artisan like that, the Snow White fairy tale. But all of the magical elements just seem bizarre and forced. The characters are unlikeable and the story is just, well, lacking.

2. Euphoria by Lily King:  I love this writer. I think she is brilliant and Father of the Rain is one of the best fiction books about alcoholism I have ever read.  Luckily, King is still in top form with Euphoria, which is very loosely based on the anthropologist Margaret Mead and her work with the indigenous tribes in New Guinea.  I always find this desire of the Western Caucasian World to assert itself into other cultures fascinating – it is so harmful and self-indulgent but is so frequently seen as a form of philanthropy.  This book was interesting and the relationship between the three anthropologists makes for good story-telling.  I will admit to finding the end abrupt and unsatisfying (which I think means I missed something important) but I still loved the book.

3. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer: This book is snarky, irreverent fun.  It is Shafer’s first book so I can’t imagine how great his next books will be.  The book has three key characters: Leila Majnoun, the beautiful, disillusioned NGO employee working in Burma/Myanmar; Leo Crane, the trust-fund baby whose conspiracy theories may have taken him over the edge into mental illness; and Mark Deveraux, a ridiculous parody of a self-help guru.  I know this doesn’t explain the story but I promise the way their lives intertwine is some strange combination of ludicrous, comical and compelling. How can that be? I don’t know but please read it.

4. The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson: This was the kind of book I needed to read. It is suspenseful and set in Paris (two very good things).  Maud is a young British who has moved to Paris on a very tight budget to become an artist.  in fact, she is the literal interpretation of the starving artist.  In order to make ends meet, Maud finds herself in the employ of a young brother and sister, Christian and Sylvie Morel.  Christian confides in Maud that he needs her as a care taker for Sylvie who is addicted to opium.  Of course there are twists and the Morels are not what they seem.  And of course Maud rises to the occasion, righting wrongs, etc.  It is not entirely original, this novel, but it is terribly fun.  And Robertson sets the stage beautifully.

ceb38a46b41857065256efbab7ba1414I am not sure what the rest of my February reading will bring but I do know at some point I need to tackle “All the Light We Cannot See.” But until then my reading friends, stay warm, eat well, drink lots of hot chocolate and know that Spring is around the corner.

February 9, 2015 at 3:31 pm 5 comments


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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