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Book review: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

If there is one reliably enjoyable writer, for me it is Ian McEwan. I hadn’t read one of his books for quite some time and found The Children Act audiobook.

In characteristic McEwan style, there are boundaries nudged and moral ambiguity. The story centres on a judge who finds her marriage is suddenly on rocky ground.

Against this backdrop, she continues to carry out her demanding job, in which she presides over the lives of families in strife.

One of these is the family of a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness who is gravely ill, but whose family does not want the undergo a life-saving blood transfusion.

The judge’s role in the decision-making, handing down a life-changing ruling, sets in train new questions of responsibility and morality.

In The Children Act, McEwan brings together fascinating aspects of society – the judge in her God-like role, and the complexity of family, faith, law and mortality. The relationship between the judge and her husband is also complicated and familiar. McEwan explores the human heart in a way that is both clear-eyed and sensitive to the frailty of humans, without entirely excusing their weaknesses.

This is an inviting introduction to big issues that, presented in this way, are not overwhelming for the reader (or in my case, listener). The Children Act reminded me of why I have chosen to read so many of McEwan’s works in the past, and inspires me to continue to do so.

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