The Children of Men by P.D. James

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Mass market, 351 pages, 1992

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: I picked this up for ten cents at a library sale, and forgot about it until I saw the movie version of The Children of Men earlier this year.

Synopsis: The human race faces extinction as infertility has inexplicably washed over humanity, with no child having been born for the past twenty-five years. Unimaginable horrors have spread across England and the rest of the world as the government strives for both a solution and order as people despair over their fates. Theo Faron, a fifty-year-old historian, finds himself swept up in a group of dissenters that may change the future or fail miserably as the world continues on its path to a human-free existence.

Why you should read this book: James has chosen a clever perspective for this possible end-of-the-world scenario: Theo is the cousin of Xan, aka The Warden, the man who is leading England as he sees fit. While they may have spent their childhood summers together, Xan wants nothing to do with Theo’s idealistic ideas about treating people better even if they are all doomed, leaving Theo so close to power and yet so powerless himself. The Children of Men is a haunting sort of book that will never make you stop believing that this could happen to the human race for a single page. So close to the end of humanity, both the best of people and the worst of humankind come out in full colour, with some people selfishly deciding to just live a self-serving hedonistic life while others are searching desperately for the impossible: a future, or even just meaning. Even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of ‘end of the world’ type of books, give this one a try for the characters and questioning of morality as much as for the plot.

Why you should avoid this book: There are definitely action scenes, but if you’ve already seen the movie, expect a slower, more thoughtful pace and a lot more detail regarding what is happening and why. There are a number of other key changes that will make both the book and the movie enjoyable in different ways, though both are packed with their own forms of despair – not a pick-me-up read.

Opening paragraph:

Friday 1 January 2021
Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty-five years two months and twelve days. If the first reports are to be believed, Joseph Ricardo died as he had lived. The distinction, if one can call it that, of being the last human whose birth was officially recorded, unrelated as it was to any personal virtue or talent, had always been difficult for him to handle. And now he is dead. The news was given to us here in Britain on the nine o’clock programme of the State Radio Service and I heard it fortuitously. I had settled down to begin this diary of the last half of my life when I noticed the time and thought I might as well catch the headlines to the nine o’clock bulletin. Ricardo’s death was the last item mentioned, and then only briefly, a couple of sentences delivered without emphasis in the newscaster’s carefully non-committal voice. But it seemed to me, hearing it, that it was a small additional justification for beginning the diary today; the first day of a new year and my fiftieth birthday. As a child I had always liked that distinction, despite the inconvenience of having it follow Christmas too quickly so that one present – it never seemed notably superior to the one I would in any case have received – had to do for both celebrations.

Fabulous quotes:

She paused and looked at him. ‘Things are happening in England – in Britain – that are wrong. I belong to a small group of friends who think we ought to try to stop them. You used to be a member of the Council of England. You’re the Warden’s cousin. We thought that before we acted you might talk to him. We’re not really sure that you can help, but two of us, Luke – he’s a priest – and I, thought you might be able to. The leader of the group is my husband, Rolf. He agreed that I should talk to you.’

Suddenly there was a commotion. One of the women being helped on to the nearer boat gave a cry and began a violent thrashing of her arms. The nurse with her was taken by surprise and, before she could move, the woman had leapt from the jetty into the water and was struggling ashore. Instinctively Theo cast off his heavy coat and ran towards her, scrunching over the pebbles and shingle, feeling the icy bite of the sea freezing his ankles.

Also recommended: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood; Blindness by Jose Saramago; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Also by this author: The Private Patient; The Lighthouse; The Murder Room; Time to be in Earnest; An Unsuitable Job for a Woman; Innocent Blood; The Skull Beneath the Skin; Shroud for a Nightingale; The Black Tower; Death of an Expert Witness; A Taste for Death; A Mind to Murder; Devices and Desires; Cover Her Face; Unnatural Causes; Original Sin; The Maul and the Pear Tree.

Fun tidbit: James was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991.

Would I read more by this author? I have a few more of James’ novels kicking around my bookshelves.

&#169 Lisa Yanaky 2003-2008

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