Publication date: 09/04/15
The central character in this fictional work, Fiona Maye, is a High Court family judge. Whilst she is revered by her peers and commands a courtroom with ease, her personal life is beginning to fall apart. After 30 years of a childless marriage, her husband announces in a calm manner that their virtually dormant sex life has driven him to begin an affair with a young statistician. Fiona decides to change the locks to their family home and the author comments: “A professional life spent above the affray, advising then judging, loftily commenting in private on the viciousness and absurdity of divorcing couples, and now she was down there with the rest, swimming with the desolate tide.”
The novel concentrates largely on her professional life, her marital problems being the sub-plot. Amongst a busy list at court, she is required to make a decision in one case regarding a blood transfusion for a boy of 17 years of age, Adam, who is a Jehovah’s Witness. The efficiency with which she timetables the matter for a contested hearing after a brief initial telephone call from her clerk would impress any family law practitioner. That is not to say that Ian McEwan portrays family work in a sensationalist fashion. To the contrary, the book is well researched, the author having marshalled a Court of Appeal judge.
Rather unconventionally, Fiona decides to visit Adam at the hospital before delivering her judgment. Though the likeliness of any family judge meeting directly with the subject child is questionable, it is not unbelievable in the context of her personality, hectic day, difficulty of the decision, age of the child, tight timeframe and the backdrop of marital discord.
What follows is an intriguing plot of a young man who becomes attached to a woman, her having made a decision about his life. Fiona as a character is well constructed. She has many qualities we as legal practitioners would identify with and idealise both in ourselves and in the judiciary: authoritative, clear, balanced, efficient and objective. And yet her relationship with Adam, though within the boundaries of what is appropriate, leaves the reader to question her state of mind in personal matters.
It is both reassuring and refreshing when a profession is reflected with realistic accuracy and The Children Act certainly delivers that.
Reviewer: Raffia Arshad, St Mary’s Chambers, Nottingham