The Children Act by Ian McEwan - review by Sam Leith

Sam Leith

Family Matters

The Children Act


Jonathan Cape 214pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Ian McEwan is a stranger writer than he sometimes looks. Texturally (well, except maybe in the semi-farcical Solar) he’s a fastidious realist; and yet – as displayed most obviously in Sweet Tooth, Atonement and Saturday – he has a badger-stripe of postmodernism: texts within texts, writerly self-consciousness, reflexive nods to the civilising power of art and all that jazz.

The Children Act, accordingly, opens with a big wink to the reader: ‘London. Trinity term one week old. Implacable June weather.’ As any fule kno, Dickens’s great legal novel, Bleak House, begins: ‘London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather.’ If this is to be taken as anything more than an in-joke, it’s as a declaration of intent.

Here is McEwan writing in quasi-Dickensian mode. This is not because his style is Dickensian – McEwan doesn’t go in for the cartoonishly comic minor characters or the line-by-line rhetorical jive of Dickens; he’s low-key and unshowy and precise – but because this is a rather journalistic novel: carefully researched,

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