The premise of THE CHILDREN ACT, a High Court judge faced with the case of a teenage boy who has refused medical treatment on religious grounds, seems like such fertile ground for an author of Ian McEwan’s indubitable talent. But its pedestrian delineation of events limits its overall appeal. The novella reads more like a summation of events rather than a narrative experience. As thought-proving as its core ideas are, its execution is bizarrely impotent. Ensnared by its potential, and enchanted by glimpses of delightful prose, THE CHILDREN ACT simply lacks the panache one expects from the author of ON CHESIL BEACH.
High Court Judge Fiona Maye’s problems aren’t limited to her professional life. Climbing the legal ladder has decimated her marriage, leaving her husband pondering the notion of an affair. Such is the deplorable state of their relationship; he even has the gall to announce his intended tryst before it’s even begun, in the hopes of eliciting a passionate response from his wife. Theirs is a relationship that has grown stale; the embers have cooled over time, and without children or a meaningful foundation on which to solidify the crumbling remains of their union, the writing appears to be on the wall. But this secondary plotline unfolds mundanely, and occasionally feels like padding on what might’ve been a powerful short story. McEwan’s prose is crisp, as always; there’s just no spark here. The characters are bland, punctuated by fleeting moments of inspiration, secluded to moments involving matters of the law.
THE CHILDREN ACT is perplexing; brimming with unrealised potential, laboured, but engrossing nonetheless.