THE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan (Vintage Books, 2014)
With this novella’s strong focus on the burden of mortality and the melancholy reflections on ‘what-ifs’ from the past, it seems to me that, not for the first time, Ian McEwan takes a lot of inspiration from James Joyce’s Dubliners and ‘from The Dead’ in particular.
The delicate line that divides life and death centres on the fictional case of a 17-year-old boy, Adam Henry, who will almost certainly die unless he receives a blood transfusion. Since he has not quite reached the age of consent, the decision over his treatment rests with his parents who are both Jehovah’s Witnesses.
McEwan is an Atheist but he is interested in the nature of belief so is not about to score cheap points criticising the rigid application of religious principles. The opposition to transfusions is therefore presented as a serious moral dilemma rather than merely the result of blinkered thinking.