Monday, November 03, 2014

The Children Act: Audio Book vs. Physical Book

The Audio Book
This is one of those rare times that I’ve both read a novel and listened to it in its entirety in audio book format.  And I found the experiences to be very different ones.  In the case of reading the physical book, even though the main character is a female high court judge in London, I did not consistently “hear” her voice in my reading mind as that of a woman.  (Keep in mind that, while the book is written in the third person, it is very much told from Fiona’s perspective.)  Listening to the audio book, however, it is impossible to forget that Fiona Maye is an upper class British woman at the tail end of a rather powerful legal career.  I will explain why that difference is important toward the end of this review.

Fiona Maye has done quite well for herself.  She is at the top of her profession as one of London’s family court high court judges and she feels good about the role she plays in helping clean up the messes that people so readily make of their lives and, more importantly to her, the lives of their innocent children.  She and Jack, her husband, a professor of ancient history, have been married for thirty years and have settled into a rather comfortable lifestyle that both seem happy enough with – with perhaps their only regret being that they never had children.  But, as Fiona will learn, she has overestimated her husband’s satisfaction with their situation.

The Mayes are an aging couple now, something that Jack seems to feel more intensely than Fiona.  And what Jack wants more than anything else in the world is one “big passionate” love affair before it is forever too late for him to have one.  But he does not want a divorce.  Rather, he makes a plea for Fiona’s understanding and tacit approval of his one-time fling – she tosses him out the door and changes the locks.

Author Ian McEwan
In the midst of everything that is going on at home, Fiona is assigned a case that could define her entire career, that of a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness who is refusing the blood transfusion that could easily save him from what is an imminent death.  Adam is in many ways, a special boy: beautiful and a talented musician, he is personable and curious beyond his years despite being rather naïve about life itself.  Fiona, caught off guard by her reaction to Adam is faced with a legal decision that demands her objectivity.  But whether or not she can remain objective is only one of the issues she is dealing with as she comes to realize that her decision, despite her good intentions, has the power to ruin not only Adam’s life but her own.

Reader, Lindsay Duncan
This is where I found a difference in my reaction to the written page and the recorded version of The Children Act.  While reading the book, I found it a little difficult to believe that a woman of Fiona’s stature and experience would put everything at risk over one case.  The audio book, on the other hand, gave me such a distinct sense of Fiona’s current vulnerability that I found her reaction to Adam and his plight to be not only believable but likely.  It was almost like “reading” two different books.

Ian McEwan continues to produce remarkable novels, and this time he is aided by the outstanding reading talent of Lindsay Duncan, a Scottish stage actress with many movie and television appearances to her credit. 

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