Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Fiona Maye is a family services judge in London, consumed by her work, at the expense of her personal life.  Her husband Jack tells her that he is about to embark on an affair with a young co-worker, since the passion has gone out of their marriage.  Fiona unceremoniously sends him packing, changes the door locks, and immerses herself in her work and her piano.  Her current caseload includes a medical situation involving a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness.  The teenager, Adam, and his parents have refused a potentially life-saving transfusion on the basis of religious principles.  Before passing judgment, Fiona visits Adam in the hospital, and the two bond over music and poetry.  That visit, however, has unforeseen repercussions for both of them after Fiona renders her decision on the case.  This is the point at which I thought almost everything about the story became a foregone conclusion.  There is even a question about abandoning the law altogether, but that wavering comes from a defense attorney, not Fiona herself.  There are, however, nuances of the outcome that I did not expect, and, as always, McEwan’s writing is so fluid and pleasurable to read that I liked the book despite its predictability.  The novel is also rather short, not that I’m complaining, and feels almost like a short story.  Fiona commits a pivotal and impulsive act in the latter part of the book that seems odd and out of character but at the same time works as sort of a symbol of her re-igniting passion for something other than the law.  After receiving some very unsettling news, she delivers the most inspired musical performance of her life.  Powerful emotions can imbue music with meaning, whether you’re the musician or the listener, and sometimes we redirect such emotions toward some other aspect of our lives.

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