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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Monday, December 15, 2014

The meaning of McEwan's The Childern Act

Great book-group discussion last night of Ian McEwan's The Children Act in which we put various pieces together to come up w/ a "reading" of the novel on which we all concurred: the central figure, Fiona, the family court judge, early on notes that her professional has become too specialized and removed from the children in whose best interest they are expected to act or rule; she laments that they get their info about the children from assigned social workers, and she wishes she could go back to "the old days" when judges took the time to meet the children. So that's what she does in the Jehovah's Witness case that comes before her - with disastrous results. First, she meets the 17-year-old Adam and in my view flirts with him, singing an accompaniment to his violin, and very longing and passionate love lament. Then, she lets her meeting w/ him severely influence her ruling in the case: she rules he should received the unwanted blood transfusion in part because he's an intelligent and charming, sensitive young man with a whole life ahead of him. And (I noted) what if he were a dolt? crude? mean? Would her decision have been any different? It shouldn't - law, not her personal feelings for the young man, should guide the judge. Afterwards, when he sends her a pleading letter (which she doesn't answer) and then begins to stalk her, she behaves terribly inappropriately again: What she should have done is tell him he needs help, get him in touch with a social worker or caseworker, but not hand him a roll of bills and send him off into the night with a kiss on the lips, no less! She risks her entire career w/ that action, and well should she. Why does she come off the rails like this? Because her husband is in the process of leaving her for a much younger woman (this does not, finally, happen) causing her to confront her aging, her loneliness, her brittle personality. She finds in the young man someone who seems drawn to her, even sexually attracted, and she falls for that, for him. We didn't quite reach concurrence on the ending of the novel, w/ JRo feeling that it was too inconclusive whereas I for one like the open-endedness, reminding me of some great short fiction most notably The Dead (Joyce), which I see as the inspiration for the image of the young man, now dead, and the beautiful song by which she remembers him.

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