The Children Act by Ian McEwan

71%

60 Critic Reviews

McEwan, always a smart, engaging writer, here takes more than one familiar situation and creates at every turn something new and emotionally rewarding in a way he hasn’t done so well since On Chesil Beach...
-Kirkus

Synopsis

Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge who presides over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude, and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.

At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: Adam, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, is refusing for religious reasons the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents echo his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely expressed faith? In the course of reaching a decision, Fiona visits Adam in the hospital—an encounter that stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.
 

About Ian McEwan

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Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of more than ten books, including the novels The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize, and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award, as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He has also written screenplays, plays, television scripts, a children's book, and the libretto for an oratorio. He lives in London.
 
Published September 9, 2014 by Anchor. 242 pages
Genres: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction, Political & Social Sciences, Religion & Spirituality. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Sep 28 2014
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Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for The Children Act
All: 60 | Positive: 44 | Negative: 16

Kirkus

Excellent
on Jul 23 2014

McEwan, always a smart, engaging writer, here takes more than one familiar situation and creates at every turn something new and emotionally rewarding in a way he hasn’t done so well since On Chesil Beach...

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Jul 07 2014

Readers may dispute his most pessimistic inferences, but few will deny McEwan his place among the best of Britain’s living novelists.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Sep 14 2014

Mr. McEwan did an inspired job of depicting Briony, the teenage girl in “Atonement”...and here he delineates Adam with acuity, capturing the boy’s intelligence, naïveté and instinct for self-dramatization.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Deborah Friedell on Sep 12 2014

A newcomer to McEwan will find little here to indicate why his reputation as a storyteller is so tremendous. There is no dazzling opening scene, as in the balloon crash in “Enduring Love,” or fabulous set piece, as in the evacuation from Dunkirk in “Atonement.”

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by LUCY SCHOLES on Apr 26 2015

In many ways it’s a parable of the obvious – “It was not her business or mission to save him, but to decide what was reasonable and lawful” – but there’s something about the studied solemnity of McEwan’s tone that held me captivated.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Tessa Hadley on Sep 11 2014

Realism seems beside the point after a while: it's more like being inside the workings of an allegory or a parable. At least this time there's no magical whisking away of the narrative rug from under our feet at the last moment, as in Atonement or Sweet Tooth. In fact, the closing paragraphs of the novel are tender and serious.

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Kate Kellaway on Sep 06 2014

The portrait of Fiona's marriage is also hugely enjoyable. Not a detail escapes McEwan. Even the way a cup of coffee is steered across a table can be telling: a peace offering...this is a novel which, above all, considers what it might mean to be saved...

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NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Meg Wolitzer on Sep 05 2014

At 221 pages, this is one of McEwan's short novels, lacking the luxurious sprawl of Atonement, which many consider his masterpiece. Instead, it's a book that begins with the briskness of a legal brief written by a brilliant mind, and concludes with a gracefulness found in the work of few other writers.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Sarah Stonich on Sep 05 2014

...where the author best succeeds is with his portrayals of parents — those who struggle along just like the rest of us, with all the anxiety and joy that children wring from our hearts.

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Financial Times

Above average
Reviewed by Jon Day on Sep 12 2014

McEwan has shown himself to be sensitive to the fertile ambiguities thrown up by ethical dilemmas. In The Children Act he wants the answers to be obvious, but life isn’t so simple as that.

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Book Reporter

Good
Reviewed by Michael Magras on Sep 10 2014

Early in the novel, we learn that Fiona is known for her “crisp prose, almost ironic, almost warm, and for the compact terms in which she laid out a dispute.” The same can be said of Ian McEwan.

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LA Times

Good
Reviewed by Mona Simpson on Sep 08 2014

This short novel does a particularly hard thing: It chronicles the recalibration of a 30-year marriage after it has fallen out of balance. Each of the two people strays to fulfill a need they don't share and the story resolves in a conversation after an amateur musical performance, in an homage to Joyce's "The Dead."

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Globe and Mail

Below average
Reviewed by Zsuzsi Gartner on Sep 12 2014

How one of the English-speaking world’s most engaging and accomplished novelists...could, or would, write such a lifeless book is a bit of a head-scratcher...

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AV Club

Above average
Reviewed by Gregg LaGambina on Sep 08 2014

The Children Act is a good novel. Too neat, too tidy, not a jazzy flourish in sight, but one could do much worse than an unremarkable book by McEwan.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Stephan Lee on Sep 05 2014

The consequences aren't as violent as those that befall McEwan's protagonists in Saturday and Solar, but Fiona's experience is no less haunting in this brief but substantial addition to the author's oeuvre.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Philip Marchand on Oct 03 2014

Like all of McEwan’s work, The Children Act (named after an act of Parliament) is a very readable narrative, fortified with suspense and displaying a taste for the lurid.

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The Washington Post

Above average
Reviewed by Ron Charles on Sep 02 2014

“The Children Act” is not primarily about religious radicalism or the conflict between faith and science; it’s about the way a woman’s well-ordered life is shaken by a confluence of youthful passion and old betrayal.

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The Independent

Above average
Reviewed by Amanda Craig on Aug 31 2014

In short: this novel is not as good as McEwan’s Atonement, but what modern novel is? Though not itself perfect, his eighth novel embodied a high-water mark in modern (and Modernist) fiction; The Children Act, with its sly allusions to many of the author’s own past works, seems inferior only when comparing this to his own oeuvre...

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Boyd Tonkin on Aug 26 2014

Although thrillingly close to the child within us, McEwan nonetheless writes for, and about, the grown-ups. In a climate that breeds juvenile cynicism, we more than ever need his adult art.

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The Telegraph

Above average
Reviewed by James Walton on Sep 03 2014

The book still contains plenty of good, typically precise writing...Yet, in the end – especially given the choice of Jehovah’s Witnesses as the chief target – the feeling persists that McEwan’s considerable intellectual and literary firepower is here being used for little more than shooting fish in a barrel.

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Huffington Post

Good
Reviewed by Claire Fallon on Sep 18 2014

Though tantalizingly brief and somewhat coldly legalistic at points, The Children Act is lovely, pensive novel that reveals the frailties of human faith and the human justice system.

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The Boston Globe

Excellent
Reviewed by Gina Frangello on Sep 20 2014

Only a master could manage, in barely over 200 pages, to engage so many ideas, leaving nothing neatly answered.

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BookPage

Good
Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg on Sep 01 2014

...the pleasures of this quiet novel flow from McEwan’s keen judgment of human character and his ability to translate it so deftly that through his characters we can see ourselves with new eyes.

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San Francisco Chronicle

Above average
Reviewed by Mindy Farabee on Sep 18 2014

...a novel deeply concerned with social contracts and “moral kitsch,” a brief parable in which much of its plot gets set in motion over a conflict between religion and modernity, but the story turns on the myriad ways that we fall prey to inner conflicts and so thus fail one another.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Below average
Reviewed by Jacob Bacharach on Sep 28 2014

The result, unfortunately, neither rewards nor challenges very much. The tragedy is merely wistful, and the moral sentiments mostly banal.

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USA Today

Good
Reviewed by Bob Minzesheimer on Sep 03 2014

...that makes for a grown-up novel that reminds us just how messy life can be and how the justice system, despite the best of intentions and the best of minds, doesn't always deliver justice.

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About.com

Good
Reviewed by Jeff Alford on Nov 01 2014

The Children Act is a refreshingly direct and deviously complex little novel. By exposing the central conflict in such a forthright and procedural manner, McEwan allows his readers to think and feel in step with his protagonist.

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We Love This Book

Good
on Nov 03 2014

Although it may sound like familiar territory for the author - a marital fissure, a social transgression, a moral quandary - it actually reads as a compellingly relevant and richly layered piece of fiction.

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The Miami Herald

Below average
Reviewed by Ariel Gonzalez on Sep 26 2014

McEwan has produced soul-shaking stuff in the past...Buried somewhere in The Children Act is a decent short story that might have contributed to this theme.

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Chron.com

Good
Reviewed by Maggie Galehouse on Sep 12 2014

Although “The Children Act” is crammed with big ideas, McEwan takes the time to give Fiona and Adam full lives, to flesh out their respective histories — Fiona had her wild days as a younger woman, fell in love with a musician — and explore the challenges and concessions that have shaped them.

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Watermark Books And Cafe

Good
Reviewed by Susan Gusho on Nov 01 2014

The context of religious radicalism in The Children Act provides a backdrop for a complex and unpredictable story that eager readers will want to devour in one sitting. Judge for yourself.

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NY Daily News

Good
Reviewed by Sherryl Connelly on Sep 07 2014

McEwan portrays Fiona with such beautifully measured restraint that a tragic story is made even more powerful for being told in muted tones. A paragon becomes all too human in this aching tale.

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Scotsman.com

Above average
Reviewed by TOM ADAIR on Aug 31 2014

The powerful emotions thus evoked are nicely countered by McEwan’s stylish, hushed prose, as though he were dipping quill into ink beneath a forbidding librarian’s gaze.

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Post and Courier

Above average
Reviewed by Catherine Holmes on Oct 18 2014

The novel's final pages are truly gripping, as Fiona confronts epic failures of understanding. Folly, McEwan insists, isn't confined to the young.

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Irish Times

Below average
Reviewed by EILEEN BATTERSBY on Sep 28 2014

Even more odd, though, is the fact that McEwan does not capitalise on the most compelling situation with which he could test Fiona...It could have made for a devastating novel.

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Times Dispatch

Good
Reviewed by Doug Childers on Sep 06 2014

“The Children Act” isn’t a big book by any measure, but for most readers its emotional impact will likely linger long after they’ve finished its last page.

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Lit Reactor

Below average
Reviewed by NATURI THOMAS-MILLARD on Sep 08 2014

Most of all, the inner cynic in me can’t help but think that a good-looking seventeen year old boy pining for a woman old enough to be his Grandma is just a teeny bit dubious. Harold and Maude excepted, of course.

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Literary Review

Below average
Reviewed by Sam Leith on Nov 03 2014

...Adam - at least to my mind - is less well rounded and the connection between the two sides of the story seems willed rather than organic. The whole assemblage still feels, by Ian McEwan's own highest standards, a little bit thin.

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Slant Magazine

Above average
Reviewed by JONATHAN RUSSELL CLARK on Oct 08 2014

...the difference between her coolness in court and her actions in life are precisely what The Children Act is all about: The law, like a religion, gives us rules to follow, ethics to adopt, but real life is much messier, much more strange and painful and difficult than any system of dos and don'ts can speak to.

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Three Guys One Book

Good
Reviewed by James Costa on Aug 19 2014

The reader after finishing the novel will certainly be forced to look at their own life and wonder what they would do if they were suddenly asked to make a life or death decision about someone else’s life.

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The Jewish Chronicle

Below average
Reviewed by David Herman on Sep 18 2014

The cases have the feel of a TV movie not a great novel. Guardian values triumph too easily. Sadly, The Children Act lacks the bite and darkness of McEwan's best writing. Where they were once original, even grotesque, this is predictable and sentimental.

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India Today

Below average
Reviewed by Charmy Harikrishnan on Sep 04 2014

The rest of the book is craft, deft but disappointing...After Atonement, Ian McEwan has been on the wane. He needs to redeem himself, atone now for this almost-novel.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Philip Marchand on Oct 03 2014

Like all of McEwan’s work, The Children Act (named after an act of Parliament) is a very readable narrative, fortified with suspense and displaying a taste for the lurid.

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Reviewing the Evidence

Below average
Reviewed by Yvonne Klein on Aug 01 2014

Readers who enjoy legal fiction should be interested in the two cases Fiona deals with here, meticulously detailed as they are. Otherwise, there is an emotional chill about the whole enterprise which left me in the end vaguely dissatisfied.

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Luxury Reading

Above average
Reviewed by Jax Kepple on Oct 18 2014

At a brief 240 pages, the story packs a lot of detailed legal cases as plot points for Fiona Maye, High Court Judge, as she navigates both marital strife at home and a case that comes a little too close for comfort. Ultimately, there was not enough there for it to be a truly impeccable novel.

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http://skrishnasbooks.com

Good
Reviewed by Swapna Krishna on Sep 09 2014

...it’s provocative and will make you think, but it won’t take weeks to read. It’s amazing what McEwan did with so few pages, and I absolutely recommend this book to both longtime fans and those new to his work.

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Readings

Above average
Reviewed by Brigid Mullane on Sep 02 2014

McEwan’s spare prose is well suited to these logic puzzles, and the novel tackles weighty issues with a feeling of clinical distance. I never really connected with the characters; McEwen has designed them to serve a higher purpose than to garner sympathy.

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Popcorn Reads

Excellent
Reviewed by MK on Sep 09 2014

Ian McEwan is a master storyteller and he's done it again with The Children Act! I was swept up into Fiona's life immediately.

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Book'd Out

Above average
Reviewed by Shelleyrae on Sep 06 2014

The Children Act is an interesting and provocative novel though not as compelling as I had perhaps hoped, however I can see how McEwan has earned his stellar reputation in the literary community.

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Bookmunch

Below average
on Sep 08 2014

Look at the world. Whilst I’m sure the 1% you write about appreciate the attention, it’s hard to feel sympathy for characters such as these...As far as this reader is concerned, it’s the weakest McEwan since Amsterdam – but that won the Booker, so what do we know?

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Bite the Book

Below average
Reviewed by Jon Page on Jul 17 2014

I initially thought that maybe the book needed to be longer, I needed more time to get to know Fiona Maye, the High Court judge. But after finishing the book I think the opposite might be true, that this might have been a better short story than novella.

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It's Either Sadness or Euphoria

Good
Reviewed by Larry on Oct 16 2014

I enjoyed the characters and actually wished the book was a little longer so that the reader was able to spend more time with them. In lesser hands this could have turned into utter hystrionics, but I thought McEwan's restraint was true to the plot.

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The Bluestocking Society

Good
on Sep 09 2014

McEwan is a masterful storyteller and writer. The characters intrigue me every time. And here, again, I found that the descriptions...made me tingle with recognition and relish...

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Maurice on Books

Good
Reviewed by lomaurice on Sep 25 2014

This is a novel I will reread. It would be worth it just for the outstanding, understated prose; sentence after pristine sentence. But then there is the story. Oh, the story. I loved it.

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The Lostent Wife

Excellent
on Sep 08 2014

McEwan is a masterful storyteller, there’s no doubt about that...There is absolutely no doubt that McEwan’s vocabulary and, more importantly, his perfect execution of that vocabulary, makes anything he write a masterpiece. It’s such an added bonus when the story lives up to it.

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JulzReads

Above average
on Sep 22 2014

Not necessarily violent, but I was expecting some sort of shocking retribution. Regardless, I enjoyed the story, I found Fiona to be a flawed if admirable character, and I was intrigued by her situation.

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Tony's Book World

Below average
Reviewed by Anokatony on Sep 28 2014

Despite its unexpected end, ‘The Children Act’ seemed a little too schematic and contrived. It did not have the strong impact for me of Ian McEwan’s best work of which there is much.

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Izzy Reads

Good
Reviewed by Izzy Reads on Sep 28 2014

McEwan’s research into the Courts is apparent and the legal arguments from relevant case law influence Fiona’s judgement but ultimately the decision she makes is hers alone. The Children Act is a thoughtful novel and at just over 200 pages, it’s a quick and easy read.

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More 2 Read

Good
Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on Aug 06 2014

The pages fly through and the story had me entertained throughout with careful placed wordings and descriptive writing, sparse but eloquent, emotional and symphonic, the author has you carefully involved with his scenes in a heartwarming tale, sad but with a ting of reality to the whole matter.

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http://indianexpress.com

Good
Reviewed by Amrita Dutta on Aug 30 2014

The triumph of this novel is its deeply moral protagonist thwarted by the reality and limits of justice. This is a spare, compact novel, taut as a thriller in its rising suspense...

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Reader Rating for The Children Act
75%

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