1. How did The Children Act affect your perception of family courts? What makes it so challenging for parents and the courts alike to follow the deceptively simple mandate that “the child’s welfare shall be the . . . paramount consideration”?
2. How would you react if your spouse made a proposal like Jack’s? Is Jack’s interest in Melanie purely sexual? When he asserts that couples in long marriages lose passion, is he right?
3. How would you have ruled in the first case described in The Children Act, regarding the education of Rachel and Nora Bernstein? Does Fiona approach religious freedom the same way in her ruling for Adam’s case?
4. How did your impression of Adam and his parents shift throughout the novel? How does his childhood exposure to religion compare to your own?
5. At the heart of Adam’s testimony is a definition of scripture, secured by faith in his religious leaders to interpret scripture perfectly. How should the government and the court system consider religious texts?
6. Both Jack and Adam are drawn to romantic ideals, albeit at opposite stages of life. Are their dreams reckless or simply passionate?
7. As Fiona reflects on her life, which choices bring her solace? How does she reconcile her childlessness with her notions of the ideal woman? How does her personal history affect her decisions in court?
8. Discuss Fiona’s sojourn to Newcastle. What is she pursuing on that journey? What is Adam pursuing when he follows her there?
9. What does “The Ballad of Adam Henry” (page 187) reveal about the nature of youth, and the nature of mortality?
10. What is Fiona able to experience through music that she can’t access any other way? For Mark (possibly with a new lover to impress), and for the Gray’s Inn community, what is the significance of the Great Hall concerts?
11. In the novel’s closing scene, what transformations do Jack and Fiona undergo?
12. How does The Children Act enhance your experience of Ian McEwan’s previous novels? What is unique about the way his characters approach moral dilemmas?
13. Explore a few of the recordings of Benjamin Britten’s setting for “Down by the Salley Gardens” that are available online. How do the melody and the verses affect you? In your experience, what does it mean to take love and life “easy”?