Posts tagged ‘Ian McEwan’

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

The moment that changes everything – “On Chesil Beach” by Ian McEwan

“On Chesil Beach” by Ian McEwan, Published in 2007

This was one of the books that Will and his mother read in “The End of Your Life Book Club” and so I picked it up at the library.  It is written impeccably.  It is also wistful and terribly sad.  It is perfect.

On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the outset of the book, it is 1962.  Florence and Edward have just gotten married and it is the first day of their honeymoon.  They are being served dinner at a private table in their hotel located on Chesil Beach in Dorset.  There is a tension between them because they are both virgins and are anxious about the physical intimacy that is expected from the honeymoon night.  McEwan then takes the reader back and forth between what is occurring between Florence and Edward at the hotel on this one fateful night and their lives leading to that moment.

Edward has come from a humble background.  His mother suffered a dramatic brain injury when she was pregnant with Edward’s twin sisters and ever since she has not been quite right.  The family lives in a kind of ordered chaos with a mother who drifts in and out of a dream world and a father who tries to do absolutely everything for the family.  Edward is studying history at college and is obsessed with the incidental particulars of historical figures.

Florence is raised in an ordered Victorian styled home.  She has wanted for nothing, except for maybe a less frigid mother.  She is a talented violinist, she is beautiful and she is admired.

The two meet and fall in love at first sight.  But as they sit down to dinner on their honeymoon night it becomes clear that they truly do not know each other.  They have been all politeness and smiles, without substance.  They are awkward together and as Florence leads Edward to bed she is just hoping to get the dreadful act done and over. After the fumbling and the pivotal moment where everything physically goes wrong, the couple find themselves on the beach both embarrassed and infuriated. This all leads to a heated argument and a confession where things are said that cannot be taken back, their meaning cannot be erased and the future course is set for their relationship.

McEwan’s genius is in full force here.  He is able to deftly take the reader back and forth between the different pieces of the relationship.  You can see the characters and feel the tension.  He has also keyed into that human element, that struggle we all have of second guessing our choices and running our mind in circles about what we should have, could have done differently.  But of course, when everything happens, we don’t always know that it was that moment that would change everything.

(Warning: please note that, though the title has the word beach in it, this is not a fun summer romp of a read. But we would expect nothing less from the tragic tales of Ian McEwan I suppose.)

Other reviews to check out:

June 7, 2013 at 5:52 pm 1 comment


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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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