The Children Act: Deadly Decisions

actFiona Maye, a family-division judge in England, is betrayed by her husband. He wants their marriage to be open, for he could have an affair with his young statistician. The 59-year-old Fiona offers a stern no, and the man walks out of their house. Although she feels abandoned, guilty, and wallows in self-pity, she has to wake up, and meet the world, because many families’ future lies in her decisions.

The author Ian McEwan, whose The Daydreamer I loved, writes beautiful prose. The parts that explain Fiona’s struggle with loneliness, and doomed marriage, seem intelligent, and moving.

 He sat down in the nearest chair. ‘You couldn’t answer my question so I’ll tell you. It’s been seven weeks and a day. Are you honestly content with that?’

She said quietly, ‘Are you already having the affair?’

He knew that a difficult question was best answered by another. ‘You think we’re too old? Is that it?’

She said, ‘Because if you are I’d like you to pack a bag now and leave.’

A self-harming move, without premeditation, her rook for his knight, utter folly, and no way back. If he stayed, humiliation, if he left, the abyss.

While Fiona finds her husband’s behaviour hideous, she also takes responsibility for their marriage’s failure. She lists all that she could have done, but all those times when she could have been emotionally available, she was elsewhere; she had to arrive at a crucial decision about the lives of Siamese twins (one infant was killing another), two girls who were deprived of education because of their father’s religious beliefs, and more and more divorces. McEwan subtly shows the best irony — the family judge, who makes thoughtful decisions for hundreds and hundreds of families, is in a hopeless marriage, and utterly lonely. Heartbreaking.

On the day, when Fiona’s husband leaves, she takes up one of the most crucial cases — a 17-year-old boy refuses blood transfusion to treat his leukemia, because his faith is Jehovah’s Witness, and accepting blood from another being is blasphemous. The hospital approaches the court to go against the boy’s, and his parents’ wish to let him have a natural death.

Court, and cases are Fiona’s escape. In spite of her own predicament, Fiona gives her undivided attention to learn and assess the boy’s situation. To know more about the boy — Adam Henry — she makes an odd move; she meets Adam in the hospital to acquire first hand information about his stand, and faith.

McEwan fills their interaction with intelligence, strange kindness and love, curiosity, and sincerity. I already mentioned but I want to say it again — I love McEwan’s writing. 🙂

The feeling had passed, but it left scar tissue in the memory, even after seven weeks and a day. Not having a body, floating free of physical constraint would have suited her best.

This morning, waking with a cold part of a bed to her left — a form of amputation — she felt the first conventional ache of abandonment.

It wasn’t sadness or anger she felt now, but a dark hollowing out, an emptiness falling away behind her, threatening to annihilate her past. Another phase. It didn’t seem possible that the person she knew most intimately could be so cruel.

To take up the violin or any instrument was an act of hope, it implied a future.

12651241_10208635480101399_7658821428297279441_nAfter meeting the boy, Fiona gives her verdict with astounding conviction, and after that day, her life becomes topsy-turvy. McEwan gives hope to the readers, and snatches it from us, when we begin to feel happy, and content.

The Children Act is not McEwan’s argument on science and religion. The book filled with emotions, explores moral dilemmas, and shadows cast by deadly decisions. It’s been several hours since I finished the book, but some sort of inexplicable sadness envelopes me.

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