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The Children Act

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  71,990 ratings  ·  6,826 reviews
A fiercely intelligent, well-respected High Court judge in London faces a morally ambiguous case while her own marriage crumbles in a novel that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

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
Hardcover, 221 pages
Published September 9th 2014 by Nan A. Talese (first published September 2nd 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 sh…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)
Elsie One of the worst book I've ever read. Thumbs down on Piccoult. …moreOne of the worst book I've ever read. Thumbs down on Piccoult. (less)

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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  71,990 ratings  ·  6,826 reviews

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Emily May
Oct 25, 2014 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
Jul 31, 2014 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. ...more
FILM adaptation now out in UK, US, and elsewhere. I've appended a review/comparison of that to this review of the book.

She felt shrunken to a geometrical point of anxious purpose .”

This was my eighth McEwan. I rated On Chesil Beach as 5*, five others as 4*, and Black Dogs as 2*. That track record gave me high hopes for The Children Act, raised further by the intriguing dilemma at its heart: whether a bright and articulate Jehovah’s Witness boy, very nearly 18, should be forced to have a li
John Grisham
Sep 09, 2014 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.
From the first page, I realized Ian McEwan’s The Children Act would conquer me. This novel is more a character study than a simple courtroom drama, as it deals with marriage, religion, and life choices. The story centers on the family court Judge Fiona Maye as she faces a crisis in her marriage, questions her life choices and stumbles practically on the edge of both her personal and professional life.
"Her judgment must be ready for printing by tomorrow's deadline, she must work. Her personal
Jim Fonseca
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Children Act by Ian McEwan

My seventh McEwan (Enduring Love, Nutshell, Amsterdam, Saturday, On Chesil Beach and Atonement).

This one strikes me as a bit different from the others – almost like a “legal thriller” akin to a John Grisham although I don’t mean to imply that Grisham’s popular writing style is like McEwan’s more literary style.

The main character is a woman at the peak of her career as a British family court judge (she is called “My Lady.”) In the acknowledgements the author cites h
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
You could argue that the character at the heart of this novel is dangerously close to being a misogynistic cliché - the career woman who deep freezes her feelings in order to succeed professionally. Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in her late fifties. At the beginning of the novel her husband, maddened by his wife’s sexual detachment, leaves to embark on an affair with a much younger woman.

It’s easy to forget every judge has a personal life and that her professional life will have repercussion
Julie Christine
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
Angela M
Sep 03, 2014 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
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars. For me a book by McEwan is a low-risk pick, as he would unlikely let me down. If all else failed, I’d always have his exquisite prose and his good ear for music to fall back on. It turned out, this skinny 221-page book was one of my favorites of his.

This book had two main themes running in parallel: the marriage crisis between 59-year-old high court family division judge Fiona and her geology professor husband Jack, and the emotional entanglement between Fiona and a 17-year-old boy A

In my opinion McEwan is very uneven writer. I really enjoyed The Cement Garden, Enduring Love and Sweet Tooth; The Child in Time moved me deeply while Amsterdam, to put it mildly, 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 writing
May 15, 2015 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
Elyse  Walters
Jul 17, 2014 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!
Charlotte May
This was a tough, emotional read. 3.5 ⭐️

Fiona Maye is a judge in familial law. She deals with everything from custody battles to the separation of a pair of conjoined twins in order to save the life of one despite the death of the other.

Her current case: a 17 year old boy suffering with Leukaemia is refusing a blood transfusion due to his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness. Fiona has to decide whether Adam’s choice is to be respected, whether he fully understands the implications of what will happe
Ron Charles
Aug 10, 2014 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
One of the Ian McEwan books I've most enjoyed 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 off the record, court secretary; the conclusion was th
Iris P
Dec 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers interested in the Justice system and social issues
The Children Act

I read this book in two days, which for a slow reader like me is quite an achievement.
There's a certain "stream of consciousness" vibe on McEwan's writing, at least on this novel, but I absolutely adore his graceful, elegant prose.
Not sure why this book is classified as a mystery/thriller, it's nothing of the sort. However, if the idea of a novel featuring a strong female family court judge in charge of handling complex ethical issues sounds intriguing, this novel might be for yo
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
Aug 25, 2014 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
Lynne King
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  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,
Fiona Maye is a High Court Judge in London, married to Jack, and an experienced pianist. Her fierce intelligence and immersion in her cases rendered the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice himself describing her as"Godly distance, devilish understanding, and still beautiful."

Almost sixty years old, Fiona finds herself in a failing marriage while presiding over a case in which a multi-talented 17-year-old teenager, a member of the Jehova's Witnesses religious group, refuses to receive blood transf
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
A tad (& maybe even more than just a tad) Dullsville. Like, hello! We know you are the fantastic writer of the incredible ATONEMENT, that you won't ever get to that level again. We recognize it. Your prose is masterful, damn! But... seriously? Not even an ATTEMPT at something more interesting, historical, heck, even more optimistic? McEwan has the uncanny ability to reach that awful and cynical and megableak conclusion that SOME humans are truly nothing; that their humanity is void. The we are l ...more
Betsy Robinson
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The sixth book in my ongoing Ian McEwan binge and it has only given me a craving for more. The Children Act weaves a story of Fiona Maye, a 59-year-old British High Court judge in the Family Division, through her rocky marriage and her cases.

Once again, I am bowled over by McEwan’s exquisite portrayal of human truths and subterfuges to avoid truth. Also his masterful storytelling technique. I found myself reading like a student, noticing his artful pacing and the way he moved between narrative a
Sep 11, 2014 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
Sep 17, 2014 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
Glenn Sumi
Nov 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The law, ethics, religion and even music intertwine in fascinating ways in McEwan's compact and powerful novel.

Sixty-something Londoner Fiona Maye is a respected High Court judge faced with an emergency decision involving a 17-year-old boy with leukemia who refuses to receive a life-saving blood transfusion because he and his family are Jehovah's Witnesses. She visits the boy in the hospital and, shortly afterwards, makes her decision about whether or not he is capable of denying treatment (he's
Nov 08, 2014 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
Diane S ☔
Jul 29, 2014 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
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
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Ian McEwan studied at the University of Sussex, where he received a BA degree in English Literature in 1970 and later 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 Rites; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and

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