Booked Up

The Wisdom Of Solomon

In Ian McEwen’s powerful new novel, The Children Act, a compassionate judge faces tough social issues not easy to solve.

By - Oct 31st, 2014 04:42 pm
The Children Act

The Children Act

Ian McEwan is a Booker Prize-winner and the author of the best-selling Atonement, which later was made into a movie. His new novel, The Children Act, is fairly short, but packs a powerful wallop. Sometimes short works linger long in the memory of the reader. The Children Act is one of these.

The title of this fascinating novel refers to the comprehensive British child protection legislation passed in 1989. The protagonist, Judge Fiona Maye, presides over the family High Court, ruling on a dizzying array of messy divorces and child custody cases. It is her struggle that is at the heart of The Children Act.

Writing with assured concision and sophistication, McEwen presents a series of conundrums that are both engrossing and disturbing. He sets the court against the individual, husband against wife, child against parent, and church against state. These artful juxtapositions may inevitably leave readers pondering their own values and beliefs. Fiction can’t do better than that.

At the heart of the conflict is the case of a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness dying of leukemia. Adam is bright, charming, attractive, and prepared to die rather than receive a blood transfusion. As Fiona meets this engaging young man, she is forced to reevaluate her crumbling marriage, her childlessness, and her longing for real love.

The issues introduced in this masterful story are not easy to resolve and McEwen does not stoop to simple answers. We are left wondering what we would do if the state decided it must force us to take medical treatment. If this book doesn’t send you to make out a Living Will, then perhaps nothing will!

The Children Act reminds us how difficult it is to judge another’s faith; how hard it is to define what that even is. The lines between nobility and self-destruction, belief and madness can be very thin, as terrorists and mass murderers remind us almost daily. We live in a complex society where people are confined to quarantines against their will and terminal patients are denied the right to die on their own terms. How do we navigate these thorny issues in a world full of conflicting beliefs? That is what we have laws and courts for. McEwen convinces us that they are no substitute for our own due diligence and the consequences of our faith.

Spotlight on Local Writers is looking for local authors who would like to be featured in our weekly column. Please send information and published copies to the site address. Feel free to recommend a local favorite we may have missed.

Upcoming Book Events:

Friday, October 31 (7:00 PM): Ticketed Event with Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Kingkiller Chronicles and The Slow Regard of Silent Things
at the UWM Union Ballroom, 2200 East Kenwood Avenue, Milwaukee. Co-sponsored by Boswell Book Company.

Saturday, November 1 (7:00 PM): Evening with Chicago Publisher Curbside Splendor  featuring Erika T. Wurth, author of Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend, and James Tadd Adcox, author of Does Not Love, at Boswell  Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee. (414) 332-1181

Wednesday, November 5 (7:00 PM): Local author, Bhupendra O. Khatri, MD, author of Healing the Soul: Unexpected Stories of Courage, Hope, and the Power of Mind at Boswell Book Company.

Thursday, November 6 (7:00 PM): Milwaukeean Rick Perlstein, author of The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, at the UWM Golda Meir Library, 2311 E. Hartford Avenue, Milwaukee. Co-sponsored by the Friends of the Golda Meir Library, The UWM Libraries, and Boswell Book Company.

Friday, November 7 (6:30 PM): Evening with Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table and Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, at Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro, 3133 E. Newberry Blvd., Milwaukee. Tickets are $95 (plus tax and gratuity) and include admission for one to the talk and dinner, and an autographed hardcover of Greenspan’s latest book. For more information and to reserve tickets, please call Lake Park Bistro: (414) 962-6300. This event is co-sponsored by Wisconsin Foodie and Boswell Book Company.

Send your book club picks and author event information to me at or on Facebook at  And good reading!

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