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The CHILDREN of MEN by P.D. James March 19, 2007

Posted by a Wristfister in Books, Fiction, Suspense/Thriller.
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Published by: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. [1993], hardcover [first American edition], 241 pages

Reviewed by: Bowie

Synopsis: A near-future dystopian drama set in Great Britain where the human species has become infertile since 1995. Society is breaking down as mankind faces its inevitable extinction. Theodore Faron, an Oxford historian, tries to find solace by writing in his journal of the last days of men, but is suddenly thrust into the plans of a small group of dissidents that will forever change the path of his life.

Review: As with my previous book review, I wanted to read the novel before viewing the film adaptation. While PD James’ premise is very compelling, the book’s overall portrait of a dying human species is not as epic as I had initially hoped. The novel is divided into two parts, titled “Omega” and “Alpha”. The first [and better] half deals with Faron’s journal entries as we are introduced to a world where a militant-form of government has overtaken England, state-sanctioned mass suicides are organized, and a chilling fascination with plastic baby dolls has griped a portion of the female population. The narration flips somewhat disconcertingly between first-person (Faron’s journal entries) and third-person. Even given this constant shift in narrator, the author succeeds in painting a very sad and probable future. I was constantly reminded of the setting in Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta, where a fascist state has absolute [and corrupt] power. I would not go so far as to say that the author uses this book as her soapbox for political debate about the role of government, but much of the dialogue made me feel that the overall theme was more political than fictional. Protection, comfort, pleasure. In Faron’s world, those are the mandates of the tyrannical government. Justice, compassion, and love seem to be outdated now, ready to die just as the last human surely will. It is a fascinating contrivance that definitely caused more probing questions into the nature of human beings. And odd as it may sound, I enjoyed this depressing look at what humans may do in the face of extinction. Then the second half of the book began.

As much as the first half is a meditation on how humans would face diversity and death, the second half is about action and hope. It feels like a separate novel; one in which Faron is now transformed from an emotionless observer into a quasi-hero in a thriller that pits a small group of people against all society. Julian, the first woman to become pregnant in over twenty-five years must be whisked off to safety to give birth to her child away from the oppressing forces of the fascist dictator, the Warden of England. While not unreadable, I felt this second-half was rushed. Given another hundred pages, the author may have been able to flesh out the plot more, or maybe she simply did not know how to satisfactorily conclude such a far-reaching premise. She even notes with irony this situation by writing:

But the whole situation was one of paradox. Could ever aims and means have been so mismatched? Had there ever been an enterprise of such immense importance embarked upon by such frail and pathetically inadequate adventurers? But he [Faron] didn’t need to be one of them. Unarmed they couldn’t permanently hold him by force, and he had his car keys. He could get away…But if he did, Julian would die.

I came away regarding the second half as one that attempts to counter-balance the first half’s depression. For the second half is indeed more vivid. Faron, as a character, finally learns how to love. And perhaps that is the author’s answer; like that Beatles hit, all we need is love. Even love can conquer corrupt states and monstrous individuals. Love can spring forth from the most improbable of places and give reason to live on.

Overall, this book is a gloomy portrayal of human society, and while it doesn’t always add up to a credible alternative view of the future, it is adequately evocative. I look forward to seeing the film now.

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Comments»

1. Jason - March 20, 2007

I saw the movie. Good, but nothing special– granted, I may have been let down because of all the hype I had heard about it.

What I found most interesting is that the dichotomy of the first and second halves is present in the film, and was something I noticed.

and on that note,

TONIGHT, WE DINE IN HELL.

2. Bowie - March 21, 2007

Hahahaaha….I assume you saw 300, Jason.

With Children of Men, I’ll just wait til it’s on DVD.

3. Yasmin - May 28, 2007

Yasmin:
I havent seen the movie or read the book but I find the subject matter fascinating and Bowie, your review is beautifully written!


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