Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge, presiding 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: for religious reasons, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, Adam, is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents share his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely held faith? In the course of reaching a decision Fiona visits Adam in hospital – an encounter which stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.
This was our book club choice for November and having not read Ian McEwan before, I was looking forward to trying a new author. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s one I’ll read again.
In this book, Ian McEwan dissects a judicial career alongside a long-standing marriage over 5 loooong chapters. Fiona has really made it in her career but at what personal cost and sacrifices? In between the falling apart of her marriage, we’re privy to the cases that she is presiding over, all of which have some kind of moral or ethical dilemma; any of which would have made for interesting reading but McEwan concentrates on the case of a teenage Jehovah’s Witness refusing a blood transfusion and the relationship she forms with the patient and the professional dilemma that ensues.
It’s a highly intelligent, well written novel but it all felt so cold and clinical, and I found it really hard to warm to any of the characters. I found Jack to be completely arrogant, expecting that his wife of considerable years would be ok with him going off to have an affair. They were both as equally as frustrating in that they couldn’t communicate with each other and therefore their marriage lacked the passion they both still seemed to crave.
There are some parts that I would question the believability – I wasn’t entirely convinced that a judge of Fiona’s standing would visit the hospital and she would engage in the singing that she did – a minor point though.
Overall, an interesting view into judicial matters from an author who obviously knows his stuff, but slow and boring in places as it concentrates heavily on description; however it made for a very lively and interesting reading group discussion.
Connect with the author, Ian McEwan