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The Children Act
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The Children Act
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A brilliant, emotionally wrenching novel from the Booker Prize winner and bestselling author of Atonement about a leading High Court judge who must resolve an urgent case—as well as her crumbling...
A brilliant, emotionally wrenching novel from the Booker Prize winner and bestselling author of Atonement about a leading High Court judge who must resolve an urgent case—as well as her crumbling...
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  • A brilliant, emotionally wrenching novel from the Booker Prize winner and bestselling author of Atonement about a leading High Court judge who must resolve an urgent case—as well as her crumbling marriage.
    Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge who presides over cases in the family division. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude, and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.
    At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: Adam, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, is refusing for religious reasons the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents echo his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely expressed faith? In the course of reaching a decision, Fiona visits Adam in the hospital—an encounter that stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.
    Don’t miss Ian McEwan’s new novel, Lessons, coming in September!
 

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Excerpts-

  • Chapter One ONE

    London. Trinity term one week old. Implacable June weather. Fiona Maye, a High Court judge, at home on Sunday evening, supine on a chaise longue, staring past her stockinged feet toward the end of the room, toward a partial view of recessed bookshelves by the fireplace and, to one side, by a tall window, a tiny Renoir lithograph of a bather, bought by her thirty years ago for fifty pounds. Probably a fake. Below it, centered on a round walnut table, a blue vase. No memory of how she came by it. Nor when she last put flowers in it. The fireplace not lit in a year. Blackened raindrops falling irregularly into the grate with a ticking sound against balled-up yellowing newsprint. A Bokhara rug spread on wide polished floorboards. Looming at the edge of vision, a baby grand piano bearing silver-framed family photos on its deep black shine. On the floor by the chaise longue, within her reach, the draft of a judgment. And Fiona was on her back, wishing all this stuff at the bottom of the sea.

    In her hand was her second Scotch and water. She was feeling shaky, still recovering from a bad moment with her husband. She rarely drank, but the Talisker and tap water was a balm, and she thought she might cross the room to the sideboard for a third. Less Scotch, more water, for she was in court tomorrow and she was duty judge now, available for any sudden demand, even as she lay recuperating. He had made a shocking declaration and placed an impossible burden on her. For the first time in years, she had actually shouted, and some faint echo still resounded in her ears. "You idiot! You fucking idiot!" She had not sworn out loud since her carefree teenage visits to Newcastle, though a potent word sometimes intruded on her thoughts when she heard self-serving evidence or an irrelevant point of law.

    And then, not long after that, wheezy with outrage, she had said loudly, at least twice, "How dare you!"

    It was hardly a question, but he answered it calmly. "I need it. I'm fifty-nine. This is my last shot. I've yet to hear evidence for an afterlife."

    A pretentious remark, and she had been lost for a reply. She simply stared at him, and perhaps her mouth was open. In the spirit of the staircase, she had a response now, on the chaise longue. "Fifty-nine? Jack, you're sixty! It's pathetic, it's banal."

    What she had actually said, lamely, was, "This is too ridiculous."

    "Fiona, when did we last make love?"

    When did they? He had asked this before, in moods plaintive to querulous. But the crowded recent past can be difficult to recall. The Family Division teemed with strange differences, special pleading, intimate half-truths, exotic accusation. And as in all branches of law, fine-grained particularities of circumstance needed to be assimilated at speed. Last week, she heard final submissions from divorcing Jewish parents, unequally Orthodox, disputing their daughters' education. The draft of her completed judgment was on the floor beside her. Tomorrow, coming before her again would be a despairing Englishwoman, gaunt, pale, highly educated, mother of a five-year-old girl, convinced, despite assurances to the court to the contrary, that her daughter was about to be removed from the jurisdiction by the father, a Moroccan businessman and strict Muslim, to a new life in Rabat, where he intended to settle. Otherwise, routine wrangles over residence of children, over houses, pensions, earnings, inheritance. It was the larger estates that came to the High Court. Wealth mostly failed to bring extended happiness. Parents soon learned the new vocabulary and patient procedures of the law, and were dazed to find themselves in vicious combat with the one they...

About the Author-

  • IAN MCEWAN is the critically acclaimed author of seventeen novels and two short story collections. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His novels include The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award; The Cement Garden; Enduring Love; Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize; Atonement; Saturday; On Chesil Beach; Solar; Sweet Tooth; The Children Act; Nutshell; and Machines Like Me, which was a number-one bestseller. Atonement, Enduring Love, The Children Act and On Chesil Beach have all been adapted for the big screen.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 7, 2014
    The 1989 Children Act made a child’s welfare the top priority of English courts—easier said than done, given the complexities of modern life and the pervasiveness of human weakness, as Family Court Judge Fiona Maye discovers in McEwan’s 13th novel (after Sweet Tooth). Approaching 60, at the peak of her career, Fiona has a reputation for well-written, well-reasoned decisions. She is, in fact, more comfortable with cool judgment than her husband’s pleas for passion. While he pursues a 28-year-old statistician, Fiona focuses on casework, especially a hospital petition to overrule two Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse blood transfusions for Adam, their 17-year-old son who’s dying of leukemia. Adam agrees with their decision. Fiona visits Adam in the hospital, where she finds him writing poetry and studying violin. Childless Fiona shares a musical moment with the boy, then rules in the hospital’s favor. Adam’s ensuing rebellion against his parents, break with religion, and passionate devotion to Fiona culminate in a disturbing face-to-face encounter that calls into question what constitutes a child’s welfare and who best represents it. As in Atonement, what doesn’t happen has the power to destroy; as in Amsterdam, McEwan probes the dread beneath civilized society. In spare prose, he examines cases, people, and situations, to reveal anger, sorrow, shame, impulse, and yearning. He rejects religious dogma that lacks compassion, but scrutinizes secular morality as well. Readers may dispute his most pessimistic inferences, but few will deny McEwan his place among the best of Britain’s living novelists.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from August 1, 2014
    In the late summer of 2012, a British judge faces a complex case while dealing with her husband's infidelity in this thoughtful, well-wrought novel. Fiona Maye, at 59, has just learned of an awful crack in her marriage when she must rule on the opposing medical and religious interests surrounding a 17-year-old boy who will likely die without blood transfusions. The cancer patient, weeks shy of the age when he could speak for himself, has embraced his parents' deep faith as Jehovah's Witnesses and their abhorrence of letting what the Bible deems a pollutant enter his body. The scenes before the bench and at the boy's hospital bedside are taut and intelligent, like the best courtroom dramas. The ruling produces two intriguing twists that, among other things, suggest a telling allusion to James Joyce's 17-year-old Michael Furey in "The Dead." Meanwhile, McEwan (Sweet Tooth, 2012, etc.), in a rich character study that begs for a James Ivory film, shows Fiona reckoning with the doubt, depression and temporary triumphs of the betrayed-like an almost Elizabethan digression on changing the locks of their flat-not to mention guilt at stressing over her career and forgoing children. As Fiona thinks of a case: "All this sorrow had common themes, there was a human sameness to it, but it continued to fascinate her." Also running through the book is a musical theme, literal and verbal, in which Fiona escapes the legal world and "the subdued drama of her half-life with Jack" to play solo and in duets. McEwan, always a smart, engaging writer, here takes more than one familiar situation and creates at every turn something new and emotionally rewarding in a way he hasn't done so well since On Chesil Beach (2007).

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2014
    Irrefutably creative, McEwan this time ushers the reader into the British legal system as he shadows Fiona Maye, a High Court judge seated in London, who presides over family disputes. Backdropped by the apparent disintegration of her own childless marriage, Fiona's uneasy involvement in one particularly delicate case, on which she must quickly rule, concerns the parents of a seriously ill 17-year-old boy who are refusing on religious grounds to consent to a blood transfusion for their son. But Fiona's interest in the boy's welfare only floats on the surface of her own self-regardself-pity, actuallyabout what it would be like to be left alone. After all, must she start life anew as an abandoned fifty-nine-year-old woman, in the infancy of old age, just learning to crawl? Her exposed emotions are a weak guard against the boy's own feelings after she comes face-to-face with him; nevertheless, she turns a toughened side to him, with an unanticipated and unnerving result. With his trademark style, which is a tranquil mix of exacting word choice and easily flowing sentences, McEwan once again observes with depth and wisdom the universal truth in the uncommon situation. High-Demand Backstory: The advertising campaign for this highly regarded novelist's latest thrilling read is extensive, and wide review attention will follow.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2014

    Obsession is a familiar subject for McEwan, most memorably explored in his 1997 Enduring Love. This time the theme is a touchstone in a novel exploring a man's fixation on having an open marriage, a boy's fascination with the judge who will decide his fate, and a couple's determination to follow the strictures of their religion no matter the cost. The judge, Fiona Maye, must decide whether the teenage boy, a devout Jehovah's Witness, can be forced by the court to undergo the blood transfusion that is necessary to save his life. Clouding Maye's mind is turmoil at home: her husband is calmly insisting upon changing the boundaries of their relationship, a story line that will remind readers of the excruciating tiptoeing-around-each-other executed in the author's On Chesil Beach. In the end, this nuanced work explores compelling ideas but is not as memorable as McEwan's best. It may find a wider audience than some of his works, though, as its setting is contemporary and its major plotline--religious exemptions to laws--topical. VERDICT Purchase where McEwan, literary fiction, and explorations of social dilemmas are popular. [See Prepub Alert, 5/19/14.]--Henrietta Verma, Library Journal

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    June 15, 2014

    Ever sensitive to the nuances of contemporary life, McEwan gives us a heroine named Fiona Maye who serves as a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. When she refuses husband Jack's request for an open marriage, he leaves. Even as she ponders whether she was resisting the loss of love or of respectability, Fiona dedicates herself to the difficult case of a 17-year-old whose parents won't allow him a lifesaving blood transfusion because of religious beliefs. McEwan's recent Sweet Tooth sold especially well, and the push is on to keep him a best seller.

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2015
    McEwan's latest follows two well-worn story lines but uses them to explore greater themes including love, parenting, duty, risk, logic, and religion. The story centers on Fiona Maye, a British family law judge in her late middle age whose marriage is dissolving. She must decide the fate of Adam, a Jehovah's Witness minor who, along with his parents, is refusing a blood transfusion that could help him to survive leukemia. The novel follows the twin narratives of the separation and return of Fiona's husband and the consequences of Fiona's decision to save Adam's life. The greater part of the novel requires reading between the lines of Fiona's thoughts and actions as she struggles with her childlessness, her ambition, and her love for and frustration with her husband. Those coming to this work looking for a big twist will be disappointed as Adam's story very much follows convention, but Fiona is a finely wrought character worth the time to get to know. The narration by Lindsay Duncan matches well with Fiona, playing up her sublimated characteristics. VERDICT This deep character study and moral exploration should appeal to fans of literary fiction and domestic fiction. ["In the end, this nuanced work explores compelling ideas but is not as memorable as McEwan's best," read the review of the Doubleday hc, "LJ" 9/1/14.]--Tristan M. Boyd, Austin, TX

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • The New Yorker "Absorbing."
  • Ron Charles, The Washington Post "McEwan presents a ferociously intelligent and competent woman struggling to rule on a complex legal matter while feeling humiliated and betrayed by her husband ... a notable volume from one of the finest writers alive."
  • Meg Wolitzer, NPR "A short, concise, strong novel in which a judge's ruling decides the fate of a teenage boy in ways she never intended or imagined ... it's a book that begins with the briskness of a legal brief written by a brilliant mind, and concludes with a gracefulness found in the work of few other writers."
  • Mona Simpson, Los Angeles Times "A quietly exhilarating book ... The Children Act chronicles the recalibration of a 30-year marriage after it has fallen out of balance."
  • Entertainment Weekly, A- "Haunting ... a brief but substantial addition to the author's oeuvre."
  • Wall Street Journal "[The Children Act's] sense of life-and-death urgency never wavers ... you would have to go back to Saturday or Atonement to find scenes of equivalent intensity and emotional investment."
  • Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today "Smart and elegant ... a grown-up novel that reminds us just how messy life can be and how the justice system ... doesn't always deliver justice."
  • Boston Globe "The Children Act manages to be highly subtle and page-turningly dramatic at once ... Only a master could manage, in barely over 200 pages, to engage so many ideas, leaving nothing neatly answered."
  • People "Heartbreaking and profound, it skillfully juxtaposes the dilemmas of ordinary life and tabloid-ready controversy."
  • O Magazine "McEwan crafts a taut morality tale in crystalline sentences."
  • Publishers Weekly, starred review "As in Atonement, what doesn't happen has the power to destroy; as in Amsterdam, McEwan probes the dread beneath civilized society. In spare prose, he examines cases, people, and situations, to reveal anger, sorrow, shame, impulse, and yearning. He rejects religious dogma that lacks compassion, but scrutinizes secular morality as well ... Few will deny McEwan his place among the best of Britain's living novelists."
  • Kirkus Reviews, starred review "McEwan, always a smart, engaging writer, here takes more than one familiar situation and creates at every turn something new and emotionally rewarding in a way he hasn't done so well since On Chesil Beach."
  • Booklist, starred review "Irrefutably creative ... With his trademark style, which is a tranquil mix of exacting word choice and easily flowing sentences, McEwan once again observes with depth and wisdom the universal truth in the uncommon situation."

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