Posts tagged ‘British Literature’

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

In vain have I struggled* – “Longbourn” by Jo Baker

“Longbourn” by Jo Baker. Published in 2013. 

I  do this to myself. I hear about a book and I think “I will not read that book about four angry single women who find love” or “I will not read this Jane Austen spin-off.” But then the New York Times Book review tells me that the book is good or a pleasant surprise and then, against all reason, I find myself in the middle of a book thinking “why did I do this?!!!”

longbourn-by-jo-baker-2013-x-200Longbourn” is about the servants in perhaps the best known household in British Literature, the Bennets.  This new take on “Pride and Prejudice” is…well…pointless.  It is mainly the story of Sarah, one of the housemaids, who has been in service since she was dumped on the Bennet’s doorstep as a young orphan.  She spends her days washing the soiled linens worn by  Jane and Lizzie Bennet, feeding the livestock, helping in the kitchen – all the while catching bits and pieces of the family conversations, heart breaks and scandals.  Her life is lackluster and pointless until the day the new footman is hired. Need I really say more?

This has been called “The Upstairs/Downstairs of Pride and Prejudice” or the “Austen Downtown Abbey” but it is actually neither. This is really just all about the servants.  And, while the reading is good and the story is fairly well executed (though a bit long in the middle), the fact that they are servants in the Bennett household seems to be a gimmick to sell the book.  Baker throws the reader the occasional storyline from “Pride and Prejudice” but it is all really not needed.  The story could hold its own and it is troubling that an author as famous as Baker couldn’t just have written the novel without riding the notoriety of the Austen spin-off.   But sadly, she did.  Of course, the gimmick is a good one.  Case and point, I am now an owner of “Longbourn” in hardback. Curses.

*Mr. Darcy, of course.

October 23, 2013 at 9:00 pm 12 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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