Ian McEwan is one of my favourite authors, and I was really keen to read The Children Act in particular because the premise sounded so interesting. Fiona is a high court judge who has to rule whether Adam, a Jehovah’s Witness, should be made to have a blood transfusion to save his life. Adam refuses the treatment (as do his parents), but as he’s underage he is deemed unable to make such an important decision, and it becomes a case for the hospital fighting for his treatment and Adam’s parents (as well as Adam himself) fighting against it.
This was such an interesting read. I found the legal arguments and the religious arguments equally fascinating, although I must admit I was completely incapable of understanding the religious arguments. I am not a religious person in the slightest, in fact I have an intense dislike of the very idea of religion. Everything about it makes me feel deeply uncomfortable, but I’m a big believer in the ‘each to his own’ philosophy, and I respect that what may seem incomprehensible to me is a vital and important part of someone else’s life. I just couldn’t get my head around the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ point of view though, no matter how hard I tried. I just don’t understand how Adam’s parents could put anything, even their religion, above the life of their child. I’m not a parent myself, and I don’t even like children most of the time, but I just don’t understand how anything could be more important. Adam’s parents knew there was a very strong chance that Adam would die without the treatment, and they refused it anyway. They also knew there was a chance that if he did survive he could spend the rest of his life with severe disabilities, and they still refused it. I just don’t understand it! How can anyone stand by and let their child die, when they can so easily avoid it? Okay, so they believed Adam would go to heaven, but he’d still be dead! I personally don’t believe in an afterlife, but even if I did I don’t think the thought of Adam in heaven would make up for the fact that they let him die. It’s just completely baffling to me. I can understand that people find the thought of an afterlife to be a comfort once they’ve lost loved ones, which makes perfect sense to me. Surely the thought of an afterlife shouldn’t be a reason to let your child die though? I’m not going to make any headway with this so I’m just going to leave the religious aspects aside from now on, because I can never understand that. Needless to say, I found reading about these ideas really, really interesting, and there’s certainly food for thought there. Crikey, how it made me angry though!
I really enjoyed reading about all the legal aspects of the case too, with Fiona’s search for comparable cases and the way the court works. I’ve always enjoyed legal TV dramas and I like that there’s often a real sense of logic and patterns to follow. There’s a feeling of theatricality to court room scenes, and considering the case being discussed was so compelling, I absolutely lapped these scenes up. I wasn’t surprised by the decision Fiona reached for the outcome of the case, because in my mind there could have been no other decision. I don’t know if that’s just due to the way Ian McEwan set up the plot, or if it’s based on my own views of the Jehovah’s Witnesses principle regarding blood transfusions. I expect it’s a bit of both, as Ian McEwan made no real attempt to show the Jehovah’s Witnesses in a sympathetic light. But then we were seeing the case from Fiona’s point of view, who had to view all sides objectively. She definitely made the right decision, but from then on I found the book slightly less compelling. Adam verged on Enduring Love territory by reverting into creepy stalker mode, and I was less interested in Fiona’s personal life and relationships than other aspects of the book.
Having said that, I was already slightly disappointed by the shortness of the book, and it would have been even shorter without the inclusion of some of these plot points. At the same time, I don’t feel that this particular story could have been sustained to a longer word count though. I really enjoy Ian McEwan’s novels, but he does predominantly seem to tend towards the shorter side of novels, and I’d really like him to bring out another meaty book like Sweet Tooth that I can really sink my teeth into.
See also reviews of Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love, First Love, Last Rites and Sweet Tooth, or read previous Book Review featuring Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two.