High Court judge Fiona Maye, better used to dealing with family drama in the courtroom, is forced to deal with her own family drama when, after 35 years of marriage, her husband announces that he wishes to embark on an affair. As she reels from his proposition of an open marriage, she is called upon to hear an emergency case involving a Jehovah’s Witness, three months away from his 18th birthday, who is refusing medical treatment that could save his life. After hearing the arguments from all parties involved, she visits the boy in hospital and subsequently delivers her judgment.

The story is compelling and McEwan, whose notable works include Enduring Love and Amsterdam, draws the reader straight into the heart of the characters with his attention to detail regarding every scenario, every setting, and the wellspring of every emotion.

What really makes this an engrossing tale are the details of the numerous cases that Fiona presides over – the background, the exchanges in court, the judgments.

Speaking to the Gazette about the research he did for the book, McEwan said he spent time at the Royal Courts of Justice, wandering in and out of hearings, but he mostly read verbatim reports of judgments delivered in court. ‘An osmosis occurs,’ McEwan says. ‘You absorb habits of mind, of phrasing.’ Sir Alan Ward, who McEwan has known for over a decade, also read a draft of the novel, ‘and was able to say “she would not say that… and that I would not say”’.

McEwan has made an expert study of the law, making The Children Act a compelling read. And he talks to the Gazette about what inspired him to write the book.

The Children Act

Author: Ian McEwan

Price: £16.99 (hardback)

Publisher: Jonathan Cape