When I picked up McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, I had a certain expectation about his work. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite hit the mark. This one, however, fulfilled everything Sweet Tooth did not.
Order in the court
Fiona Maye, a high court judge in London has had years of experience and arguable success with the cases she’s presided over. Mostly, she dealt with cases that are of family interest. And each heartbreaking case typically involve children. Anything that will protect their well being and interest is of the foremost consideration.
One particular case was the focal point of this book, and one that will leave a lasting effect on Fiona. It was the case of a 17-year old boy suffering from leukaemia. He refused the administration of a blood transfusion, but without it, he will likely die a slow and painful death. The boy is about two months remove from being an adult. And because of this reason, his manner of treatments are left for his parents to decide.
However, because they are a firm Jehova’s Witness , and the very act of blood transfusion is against their religion, the case had to go to due process and had reached high courts. The doctors treating him could not abide with their request. Because among other things, it is against their Hippocratic Oath.
It is wholly interesting to see how Fiona would arrive at her decision. She spent time with the boy to make sure that he knows what will happen either way. But it is the relationship that she will form with him, and his curiosity with the judge several decades his senior will ultimately be the crux of her guilt.
Disorder at home.
At home, her marriage life is crumbling. In the spirit of honesty, her husband had asked her permission to have an affair (who does that?!). Stating that she’s become a cold fish, and that she’s put work over him time and time again. He wanted to experience passion in the arms of his much younger assistant.
Fiona is anything but a simpering housewife who will beg a straying husband to come home. However, the readers will see her struggle between the delicacy of the case, and the tumult brought on by her husband’s apparent consideration of her feelings.
This woman is a rock; a rock that’s been battered by the times, and weathered so many storms. Professionally, she carries the weight and responsibility of a decision that could very well ruin or change a child’s life. That alone is enough to keep you up at night. But she is a formidable human being who manages to shrug the troubles of her personal life as soon as she steps inside the court room.
The tip of the McEwan iceberg.
So I see what the big deal is all about. McEwan brilliantly captured the ebb and flow of one woman’s struggle to balance emotions and intelligent thoughts in order to tackle what are to be the biggest fights of her life.
She goes through the pros and cons in a deliberate fashion while ignoring her need to break down and succumb to an easy decision. She couldn’t even swallow an entire sleeping pill even though all she wanted was to wallow in the bliss of sleep. Aside from the initial explosive, but understandable reaction to her husband’s disclosure, she was even-tempered, mild mannered, and yet remaining passionate about the law and the conflicts of her personal life.
The narrative was pretty simple; a reader will not be beleaguered with legalese and recitations of old cases. He doesn’t even attempt to explain how the British legal system work – for which, I am thankful. Because this book is really not a big book, I’m glad that McEwan dives right into the heart of the story.
My second attempt at McEwan led me to believe that Sweet Tooth was a fluke. With several books in his belt, I’m even more anxious to read more. He tackled the case of a dying boy with such intelligent sensitivity, without being prejudiced against a religion known for being purists.