Precocious Charm, Sterility of Reason


The Children Act, by Ian McEwan

It’s hard to find fault with a McEwan book, and while this one isn’t his finest hour, it’s a well written and, for the most part, a well paced story. McEwan of late has taken to isolating social, socio-political, and socio-economic issues and crafting well written stories about them. In this one, at issue is the ability of secular courts to overrule religious or cultural practices, these court actions generally believed to be in the best interests of the persons involved.

Fiona Maye is a sixty-something judge of Britain’s High Court, and before her is the case of Adam, an ill child of a Jehovah’s Witness family. That cult’s observances preclude the transfusion of blood, which might help save Adam’s life, or at least extend it. Fiona’s husband Jack wants an open marriage, and as that wound opens, both Jack and Fiona must confront Adam’s innocent, precocious charm. Fiona is a singer of some modest ability, and she sings with Adam’s clunky violin playing, which opens her to the music’s passion. Finally, she plays a few old classical pieces on piano with such artistic passion that she even wins over Jack.


Where does this leave Fiona, Jack, and Adam? Hard to say, but that’s hardly the point. That point is a little obscure, but what McEwan seems to be getting at is the attractiveness of Adam’s emotional warmth, his innocent searching for the cheer and intimacy that happens to be missing from Fiona and Jack’s marriage.

In the end, this book is one more artistic entry favoring passion and its inspirations over the discriminations and sterility of reason and intellectual pursuit.

My rating: 18 of 20 stars

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