This line from Robert Browning’s How They Brought the Good Newsfrom Ghent to Aix has stayed with me for years. It releases feelings of glee and freedom which I can’t really explain. Must have something to do with metre. But this state also accompanied me on my reading of The Children Act by Ian McEwan. Could it have been the fact that I gallop’d through the book in one day? Can’t remember doing that for at least 40 years. What a pleasure.
Our hero, Fiona, is a very successful 60 year old family court judge who is serious and sophisticated, hardworking and philosophical. Of course, she lives in McEwan`s stomping ground, London, and has many McEwanesque interests and habits – classical music, reading, love of food and alcohol, socio-political awareness and an interesting ironic detachment from her life with her husband.
The book opens with Fiona mulling over a case that demands an almost immediate decision from her. An almost-18 year old young man who is a Jehovah Witness will die unless given a transfusion. He is refusing and his family supports his choice. Had he been 18 there would be no issue, but the hospital has appealed to the courts because he is not yet an adult. Fiona decides to visit him in the hospital to probe his state of mind. She comes across a very unusual and erudite young man who challenges her mores and her station in life. McEwan understands how chance compromises or enhances life and Fiona really shines as a full -fledged philosophical character. In other words, there`s a lot going on inside!
Over- or underlying everything that is happening to Fiona in those few crucial days is the admission from her husband that he is urgently in need of consummating an affair. Whew, a few very stressful pages ensue and her reaction is surprisingly unbecoming. For a few months Fiona lives a very rational and robotic life while she and her husband navigate a new reality. Very painful and so guilelessly truthful. But then something else happens to rock her world (you’ll have to find out for yourself) and, because McEwan is such a master builder, it rocks our world, too...
We gallop’d all three.