The Children Act by Ian McEwan

It’s Wednesday again, and time to highlight another title that I have found inspiration from. This book was one I read quite recently (last month), and it was phenomenal. I was browsing around the airport during a long delay and picked this slender volume up on the off chance I finished the fat tome from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (a topic for another blog post!) which I was carrying around. While I didn’t read the book at the airport, I did read it–nearly all in one sitting–curled up under a blanket in my living room with a glass of wine. This is a book I can recommend reading in just such a situation under the unique musings solidarity and a good glass of sauvignon blanc can produce.

Of course, I knew this book would be phenomenal–it’s Ian McEwan, author of the magnificently beautiful Atonement and acclaimed literary author. Naturally, it would take an author with critical acclaim to get the approval of publishers to create such a tiny book! However, the brevity of the work is one of its great strengths, in my opinion. Since the reader does not know the entire story of the main characters, they are left to fill in the pieces on their own, thus prompting personal introspection. In this way The Children Act took on something of the short story–it was short and perfect and left readers wanting more.

The language was very literary and beautiful, which was something I enjoyed after reading mainly commercial fiction this year. As the main character, Fiona, enjoyed a glass of scotch each night, so the book went down, short and neat and leaving a glowing feeling in the heart of the reader at enjoying such gorgeous words. However, what I enjoyed more than the words were the questions and thought the book provoked.

The story centers around a woman’s professional and personal life–the professional life is one of renown, but her personal life is falling apart. Her husband wants to leave her and this brings up questions of aging, of priorities, about marriage. All of these questions hit home for me very poignantly as I have always questioned today’s cultural trend of putting career before family and the sad trend of marital unhappiness in general. The professional storyline brings up questions of ethics and maturity as Fiona deals with having to make the decisions for a child in her legal capacity. Religion even comes into the fray. It is incredible how, in so few pages, McEwan can provoke so many emotions and thoughts in his readers.

Essentially, this book inspired me because even though it was a purely literary work, it was still a page turner. I could not put it down. As writers–literary, commercial, etc–the common goal is for our work to be compelling. We want readers to keep turning the pages. If you can manage to do that, and incorporate beautiful language and present a spectrum of thought provoking topics–bravo, you truly are a master. McEwan does all this in The Children Act thus, I take inspiration from him as an author and this book as a work of art.

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