May Book of the Month: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

the_children_actIan McEwan is one of Britain's most eminent writers of fiction, yet he is also a consummate realist: many of his novels involve fastidious research (brain surgery in Saturday, M15 in Sweet Tooth) coupled with an express intent to take on a key contemporary issue. In his pacy, gripping new novel, The Children Act, McEwan deftly investigates the legal system through his protagonist Fiona Maye, a High Court judge.

Fiona lives an ordered, cultured life in London with her husband Jack, a professor of Ancient History. When Jack asks for her permission to have an affair ('I need it. I'm fifty-nine. This is my last shot') Fiona is appalled and enraged. She changes the locks on the flat, and buries herself in her current cases in the family courts. Her work is a counterbalance to her crumbling personal life: here she is a dispassionate professional in organising broken families, squabbles and messy relationships.

Fiona takes on an emergency case involving a young Jehovah's Witness, Adam, who is refusing a life-saving blood transfusion. Fiona can rule whether he must or must not take the blood. Her subsequent emotional involvement with Adam leads to disturbance but also self-knowledge, across both her public and private life.

McEwan has an astounding control over his prose: subtle, precise, unshowy. Fiona is a beautifully realised and entirely believable character and the ethical ideas explored in her work are deeply engrossing. The Children Act has all the characteristics of a classic McEwan novel – a belief in the transformative power of art, the elegant yet powerful style – and it is deeply involving. As Andrew Marr put it, Ian McEwan is 'one of the most acute chroniclers of modern life… Entirely entrancing'. 


What the critics said

'It's a pleasure from start to finish, one not to be interrupted.' Guardian

'A class act by one of our finest novelists.' Viv Groskop, Red

'Compulsively readable... A masterly balance between research and imagination.' The Times

What Mumsnetters said

'If you're after something new, then I highly recommend the recent Ian McEwan book, The Children Act.' Southeastdweller

'Book this year I've read and loved: The Children Act.' Bshh Boshh

ian_mcewanAbout the author

Ian McEwan was born in 1948 in Aldershot, England. He studied at the University of Sussex, and then did his MA degree at the University of East Anglia. McEwan's stories and novels have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. His awards include: Somerset Maugham Award for First Love, Last Rites; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) for The Child in Time; WH Smith Literary Award (2002) and National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award (2003) for Atonement; James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Saturday; Galaxy Book of the Year at the 2008 British Book Awards for On Chesil Beach. He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction numerous times, winning the award for Amsterdam in 1998. McEwan was awarded a CBE in 2000. 


Webchat with Ian McEwan

We are delighted that Ian will be joining us on Monday 1 June to discuss The Children Act as well as his previous novels and his extraordinary writing career. Please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month and then come and meet Ian on the night, and ask him a question or simply tell him what you thought of the book. Look forward to seeing you then!

Book giveaway

Vintage have 50 copies of The Children Act to give to Mumsnetters: to claim your copy please fill in your details below. We'll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you're not lucky enough to bag one of those, you can always get a Kindle version or paperback here.


Last updated: about 3 years ago