Book Club: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Sometimes I can’t help but think that Ian McEwan is a one-hit wonder. It pains me to say this.


I often say that Ian McEwan is one of my favourite authors, but I don’t think I can say that anymore. He is the author of one of my favourite books, Atonement, and some others (On Chesil Beach is also very good). The latest two, however, Sweet Tooth and The Children Act, have largely fallen flat.

The Children Act is about a Judge named Fiona Maye who presides over the Family Law Courts. She has a husband in the throes of a mid-life crisis who has set her aside for someone younger. It’s hard to take her seriously because she is completely devoid of real human emotions. She shows such little distress over her husband leaving her, and even less when he comes crawling back with his tail between his legs. I think an irreconcilable difference warrants at least a conversation. She is in charge of standing up for vulnerable persons in society, and yet, she cannot even stand up for herself. I have a hard time warming up to weak characters (Bella Swan, I’m looking at you) and who wants to identify with a weak hero/heroine anyway?!

There are a few flashbacks to reveal the character’s back story, in the usual McEwan style that I love so much. But Fiona’s character is so flat, I cannot even begin to comprehend her motivations or actions. Her husband’s character is not explored at all. He seems little more than a placeholder. If we had more to go on, it might be more plausible to understand their actions. I can barely accept that, in the throes of a mid-life crisis of her own, she becomes attracted to a dying teenager, based on one half-hour, lackluster encounter at his hospital bedside. The book makes very little sense, overall, and it is such a shame because it really had such potential.

I tried with Sweet Tooth, and again with The Children Act, and maybe I’ll give him one more shot. Unfortunately, I feel like having “A Novel by the Author of ATONEMENT” stamped on the front cover is now simply carte blanche to publish whatever collection of disjointed half-thoughts you want, whether they are good or not.