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The Children Act

3.66  ·  Rating Details  ·  33,254 Ratings  ·  4,213 Reviews
Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child's welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona i ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 9th 2014 by Nan A. Talese (first published 2014)
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Jonathan My wife is a family law barrister and says it is pretty accurate - fiction, but based on detailed research and pretty similar to the kind of things…moreMy wife is a family law barrister and says it is pretty accurate - fiction, but based on detailed research and pretty similar to the kind of things she regularly deals with. (less)
Kath Hadn't thought about this until I read this question but another novel I have read is about a child who donates her bone marrow (not so sure of actual…moreHadn't thought about this until I read this question but another novel I have read is about a child who donates her bone marrow (not so sure of actual substance she has to donate) to her sick older sister and she has to go to court to STOP this ongoing process ... Perhaps those are the echoes? Another theme from this book is an adult mentor dealing with their own 'stuff' (technical term there) and therefore unable to be as much of a mentor as the protégé would like ...(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Emily May
Nov 22, 2014 Emily May rated it really liked it
Shelves: contemporary, 2014
Do you like to people watch?

You know what I mean... just sit somewhere in a busy place and watch people bustle past in all their colourful weirdness. It's a habit I've acquired with age. Sometimes I think back to being a teenager and remember how I always wondered if I was strange in some way - I guess a lot of teens wonder that same question: am I normal? I wonder, had I taken the time to people watch back then, if I would have felt so lost and strange. I don't see how I could have. People are
Oct 16, 2015 Caris rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
Goddamn you, Ian McEwan.

The whole time, I was bracing myself for the hit. That totally unexpected punch to the throat, simultaneously filling you with pain and a total fear of your impending mortality. Because the fucker hides them. If they weren't so meticulously planned, they'd be cheap shots.

But it didn't happen, because this isn't one of those books. It's not like Saturday. More like On Chesil Beach. That's not to say it isn't powerful and revolting in its way, just that it isn't one of tho
John Grisham
Sep 09, 2014 John Grisham rated it it was amazing
THE CHILDREN ACT is about the law and sensational cases, but it is not a legal thriller. Rather, it is a beautiful and sad story of a High Court Judge forced to choose, literally, between life and death. Her ruling, though proper and legally sound, leads to both.
Aug 05, 2014 Sharon rated it it was ok
I have to stop reading McEwan's books, because I never enjoy them. There's something clinical, removed, about the way he tells his stories - I don't get the sense that he likes human beings, and he is writing about them to display his proficiency with structure and nuance rather than out of interest or sympathy. This is probably a three-star book, but a two-star experience.
Perhaps it’s best I read The Children Act in the space of a day, curled on my sofa. Otherwise I might have been spied in my favorite cafe purring like a contented cat, stroked by the sublimity of Ian McEwan’s prose.

Words adore Ian McEwan, submitting readily to his firm but empathetic hand. They are sleek and gorgeous dancers to his choreography; alone, the words are admirable, but under his direction they assume nuance and strength. His works never fail to take my breath away. It is a comfort t
Nov 02, 2015 Agnieszka rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, mcewan, reviewed, 2015

McEwan is , in my opinion , very uneven writer . I really enjoyed The cement garden , Enduring love and Sweet tooth ; The child in time moved me deeply while Amsterdam was rather disappointment and The comfort of strangers total disaster .

McEwan relishes quirk and macabre , likes to handling very disturbing and bizarre , not to say creepy behaviours and relationships in his novels . He is very efficient and his writer's skills are indubitable but there is some coldness about his wri
Jun 18, 2015 Kalliope rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Not long ago, while having my morning coffee and while perusing GR, I encountered Fionnuala’s review of this book. It immediately drew my attention because not only am I a fan of Fionnuala’s takes on books and have liked several of McEwan’s books, but also because I was going to attend a trial in court within the next few hours.

Children and parents. Parents and children. Oof!. What should be only a love relationship can easily, and too often, turn into a thorny one, charged with distressing emo
Not having read this author before, I’m very glad to have picked this one off of my 300 plus owned books. It will be easy to miss many great books this way won’t it?!

Fiona holds an immensely important job being a highly regarded High Court Judge presiding over families. She’s at a crossroads, or rather her husband is, and we see a fine story unfold as a marriage is being questioned and a brilliant woman teeters on the edge. At the same time Fiona has to decide how to apply a life and death judge
Jun 08, 2015 Debbie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-runner-ups
I’m embarrassed to say that before The Children Act, I was a McEwan virgin. But now I’ve turned into a McEwan slut, anxious to read his earlier books. I can’t help myself. What a great writer!

This is the story of Fiona, a highly respected judge who presides over family court. She has to make hard decisions that determine the fate of families. She doesn’t seem to question her power or choices until her husband rocks her world and wants her to approve his plan to have an affair. Fiona, the ever ra
Sep 20, 2014 Maciek rated it it was ok
As I began to read The Children Act, I thought that it would be the antithesis to McEwan's other novel, On Chesil Beach, where the marriage of a young newlyweds is damaged beyond repaid in a single moment, by what essentially is lack of communication.

In The Children Act the couple is much older and has been married for decades - Fiona is a 59 year old court judge, and is married to Jack, a 60 year old professor of ancient history. They have been together for 35 years, and led what could be desc
Ron Charles
Sep 10, 2014 Ron Charles rated it really liked it
Believers of a millennial bent might consider this a sign: It’s not every summer that we get two dark and serious novels focused on Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first was Scott Cheshire’s “High as the Horses’ Bridles” about a boy preacher who drifts from the faith. And now, the second coming: Ian McEwan’s “The Children Act,” which puts the church’s beliefs on trial. Surely, members of this small Christian sect would prefer, instead, to get their own hilarious Broadway musical, but authors work in my ...more
Apr 13, 2016 Dem rated it it was amazing
For me The perfect little story


I really enjoyed this short novel about a London Family Courrt Judge called Fiona Maye who oversees cases that deal primarily with children.
I listened to this book on audio and while I sometimes struggle with audio books I found the narration on this particular one excellent.

This is a extremely well thought out and structured novel, not a word is wasted as McEwan paints wonderful vivid characters and scenes. The novel is short and
One of the better Ian McEwan books I've read and a book which inspired the most vigorous debate my book group has ever had - a debate which felt like a day in court as all the 'barristers' present argued their cases; one, for the rights of children; another, the rights of parents; a third the letter of the Law; a fourth, the rights of the characters; a fifth, the rights of readers; a sixth the wrongs of the author.
No, scratch that last one of the record, court secretary; the conclusion was that
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

Fiona is a successful, middle-aged, Family Court judge who finds herself being confronted by her husband about his desire to have an affair. In the midst of her marital turmoil, she must also preside over one of the most important cases in her career – that of a 17-year old Jehovah’s Witness who wishes to take his chances of surviving leukemia without receiving a life-saving blood transfusion due to his religious beliefs. Can she save
Dec 21, 2014 cameron rated it did not like it
I could just strangle Ian McEwan. I said the same thing after reading On Chesil Beach. While reading that book, which I bought NEW, I realized it had been a short story in the New Yorker to which he had added a few pages and then called it a book. It was a good short story but never enough for a book. I wrote him and chided him for the switch but to no avail.
The Children Act felt the same way to me. Maybe he's putting his kids through college and needs some quick dough. I thought the marriage p
Jun 11, 2015 Elyse rated it it was amazing
"My Lady is Captivating"!

"Adam Henry is Captivating"

This entire story is """CAPTIVATING"""!!!

Delicate Situations!!!!!!

Written with real energy --totally 'ALIVE'....

I've been a long time fan of Ian McEwan --and this small novel (with 5 parts) --confirms the depth and breadth of Ian's talents!
Jan 23, 2016 ❀Julie rated it really liked it
I’m a big fan of Ian McEwan’s and found this to be another great read. The Children Act is more of a character study than courtroom drama, involving a family high court judge named Fiona and a difficult and sensitive medical case she is faced with regarding treatment that could save a seventeen-ear-old boy’s life. The consequences of her ruling of the case are at the heart of the story, but despite the sobering topic I did not find it to be a difficult read. In addition to Fiona’s career dilemma ...more
Sep 13, 2014 Marialyce rated it it was amazing
How truly utterly perfect was this story! The story was of a family court judge, her husband, her "on the rocks" marriage and the young man so tragically ill who came into her life and offered her love and the chance for redemption.

It was a beautiful story and one that sent goosebumps down your spine as the ending approached and try as you might you could not change it. Caught up in the turmoil that parents and religion can oftentimes put children through, the novel captures the true element of
Sep 06, 2015 Maxwell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own-it, 2015
Perhaps an unconventional first McEwan novel to read, The Children Act is a tightly constructed, parable-like story of morality, religion, science and the decision of one woman amidst a marital crisis. We follow Fiona Maye, a London high court judge, who must make the decision of whether or not to treat 17-year-old Adam, a Jehovah's witness, with a blood transfusion; a decision that would go against his religious beliefs, but due to his being a minor, falls on the court's shoulders.

We focus muc
Dec 02, 2014 Tatiana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary, 2014
So incredibly banal in every way.

I am asking myself - how is this any different from what Jodi Picoult writes? The central conflict and the moral dilemmas at the core of this novel (a Jehovah's Wittness boy refusing a life-saving blood transfusion on religious grounds) are ripped not even from newspaper articles, but from a wiki page. Every argument in this book you've already read and heard, if you have any interest in the justice system or religious beliefs.

There is nothing new to ponder on he
Diane S ☔
Sep 23, 2014 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An author, I believe, takes a risk when he centers his novel around one character. So often a reader will rate their enjoyment of the book on whether or not they can relate to the character. In this story the main character is Fiona, approaching sixty she is a high court judge in the family court. She had given up the idea of having a child, concentrating on her career. She is long married to Jack, but their marriage has now hit a big road block.

In the beginning I felt a huge distance from the c
Lynne King
Jul 13, 2015 Lynne King rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Given the unique circumstance of this case, I’ve decided that I would like to hear from Adam Henry himself. It’s not his knowledge of scripture that interests me so much as his understanding of his situation, and of what he confronts should I rule against the hospital. Also, he should know that he is not in the hands of an impersonal bureaucracy. I shall explain to him that I am the one who will be making the decision in his best interests.

I had never read any of this author’s books before, in
Angela M
Nov 03, 2014 Angela M rated it really liked it
Don’t let the fact that this is a pretty short novel deceive you into thinking that there is not much substance here. When I finished reading this book, I couldn’t stop thinking about the enormous power that Family Court judges have over the lives of so many young children whose families are in crisis and then even if the decision seems right, what happens to these children afterwards? Fiona Maye, a High Court Judge in the Family Division of the Courts in England (and this could be anywhere) ha ...more
Jan 01, 2015 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook

After being traumatised by The Child in Time when I read it in the late 1980s, I spent more than twenty five years avoiding Ian McEwan. I overcame my unreasonable fear of reading his work in the last couple of years and very much enjoyed On Chesil Beach and Sweet Tooth. So I embarked on this novel with some confidence that I would like it a lot.

The main protagonist, Fiona Maye, is a married woman in her late 50s. An English High Court judge in the Family Division, her day-to-day work requires h
Nov 02, 2014 Jill rated it really liked it
The thing about Ian McEwan is he’s just so versatile and psychologically astute. He never revisits the same plot lines and themes twice. So I always find that a new book of his is cause for celebration.

The Children Act is short, spare and yet rich – Enduring Love and On Chesil Beach come to mind. It centers on England’s 1989 Children Act, which placed the welfare of children as the court’s paramount consideration.

Judge Fiona Maye – “My Lady” – has reason to come head-to-head with the Children Ac
Mar 05, 2015 Carol rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Audio edition, superior narration by Lindsay Duncan…

The Hook - Ian McEwan is high on my list of favorite authors. You either get him or you don’t.

The Line – “When a court determines any question with respect to … the upbringing of a child … the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration. --Section 1(A), The Children Act, 1989.”

The Sinker – The above quote cites the essence of this story about a family court Judge, Fiona Maye charged with decisions that protect the welfare of ch
Aug 18, 2015 Mona rated it liked it
At times I found this book cold and pointless. But it's the ending which really elevated it.

Fiona Maye, renowned British family court judge and sometime pianist, presides over a difficult court case involving an extraordinary boy, Adam Henry. The boy, precocious, lively, and beautiful has leukemia. Unless he has an emergency transfusion, he will most likely die. However, he and his family are Jehovah's witnesses. Receiving blood transfusions is against their religion.

Fiona has to preside over an
Banal, unconvincing and arrogant...

High Court judge Fiona Maye's comfortable life is rocked when her husband of many years announces that he would like her permission to have an affair. The poor man has his reasons – apparently he and Fiona haven't had sex for seven weeks and one day so you can understand his desperation. (Am I sounding unsympathetic? Oh, I haven't even begun...) This shattering event happens just before Fiona is to preside over a case where a hospital is seeking permission to g
Nov 04, 2014 Trish rated it it was amazing
In calm, clear, patient English McEwan presents a particularly agonizing example of the stunning success and haunting failure of a juridical system, indeed, of a well-tempered, well-disciplined judicial mind. A transcendently wise decision over a matter of life and death cannot save a vital, loving, innocent teenaged boy without concomitant fulfilment of the obligation to prepare him for the world. McEwan’s prose is precise, alluring, devilish, revealing in a paragraph a history, in a pause an a ...more
I had absolutely no intention of reading this - McEwan is not a writer whose past books have impressed me as much I expected them to (I've read Enduring Love, Amsterdam and On Chesil Beach and rated them all averagely). I just started reading a preview to see what it was like, and was so swept up in the narrative I had to continue reading the book.

This is a simple, short, elegant novel about a female judge, Fiona Maye, who is called on to make a quick decision in an urgent case: she must decide
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Ian McEwan was born on 21 June 1948 in Aldershot, England. He studied at the University of Sussex, where he received a BA degree in English Literature in 1970. He received his MA degree in English Literature at the University of East Anglia.

McEwan's works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976 for his first collection of short stories First Love, Last
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“Blind luck, to arrive in the world with your properly formed parts in the right place, to be born to parents who were loving, not cruel, or to escape, by geographical or social accident, war or poverty. And therefore to find it so much easier to be virtuous.” 15 likes
“Everyone knew the urge to run from the world; few dared do it.” 9 likes
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