After a couple of bad reading choices in quick succession (The Shock of the Fall was almost unanimously disliked by the book group, only one of us having a good word to say for it, so it wasn't just me!) ... what a relief then to spend the weekend with my head down in a new Ian McEwan. The literary equivalent of sleeping on a good firm mattress instead of a cheap foam-filled futon. (Mattresses have been preying on my mind this week after a perfect night's sleep in a hotel bed that came from here. As mine needs replacing, I am sorely tempted.)
I haven't always been a fan of McEwan. Loved Atonement, loathed Saturday, wasn't entirely convinced by On Chesil Beach. But I do like his spare, elegant writing.
This is a compelling slim volume, only 213pp. Fiona is a High Court judge in the Family Division, fiercely intelligent, going through a midlife crisis in her own long, on the whole loving, but childless marriage. (Does seven weeks and a day without sex constitute a crisis worth leaving home for? Her husband thinks it does.)
To be honest, I didn't much care about Fiona's private life and whether or not she picked up the threads of her marriage with the history professor husband who was so vain of his silver-grey chest hair. But her working life is fascinating: the judgement she gave on Siamese twins - her ruling on educating the daughters of two divorced Orthodox Jews ... She is cool, dispassionate, a female Solomon. She wears Rive Gauche; a detail dropped in towards the end, but how exactly right for her.
And then she is called on to make an emergency court order in the case of a young Jehovah's Witness with leukaemia; almost 18 - but not quite - he is refusing a blood transfusion.
Often, when I finish reading McEwan I find myself stricken by doubts. Now that I've surfaced, I'm not entirely convinced by this beautiful, precocious, exceptionally-gifted 17-year-old poet. But I was completely engrossed while I was reading, right to the last page.