The Children Act by Ian McEwan (Vintage Books)

by Patrick O'Connor


SOME may consider that with the world the way it is at the moment, staying clear of any debate involving religion may be considered wise.

But the acclaimed British author Ian McEwan has never been one for shying away from difficult subjects.

In this, his 13th novel, McEwan expertly takes us in the world of Fiona Maye, a 59 year old high court judge.

We have glimpses of her private life – her husband of 35 years feels their love life is jaded and he wants 'permission' to indulge himself with an affair with a much younger woman – but it is Fiona's professional life which provides the fascination.

There are tasters as to what is to come with a montage of the some of the cases she has to deal with in the High Court: a Moroccan Muslim father who wants to take his daughter from the care of her English mother; an Orthodox Jew who wants to restrict his daughter's education and a Catholic couple who would rather both their Siamese twins died than one be saved by surgery.

But the real story begins when Fiona has to pass judgement in the case of a 17 year old Jehovah's Witness called Adam, whose parents, with his backing, want to refuse a blood transfusion which could save his life, on religious grounds.

The judge has never had any children and has a very comfortable existence within London's high-flying legal community. But this case gets under her skin and McEwan weaves his way through her inner thoughts as she strives to do best for all concerned – including the hospital who are desperate to save their patient's life.

To enable to reach the correct decision, Fiona decides to visit Adam in hospital and becomes enthralled by a violin-playing, mature, almost precocious teenager who knows his own mind – or does he – and knows how to express it.

The Children Act only runs to 213 pages but it is concise prose at its very best.