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The Children of Men by P. D. James

The Children of Men (1992)

by P.D. James

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I never was much of a genre reader but at some time in my middle years I was assailed by a love of dystopias. There's nothing like a vivid tale of the world ending to truly set me at my ease. It did not occur to me until I read Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium why dystopic narratives were so satisfying on an almost physiological level. I realized it was a hardwired need, evolved by centuries of my whack-job millenarian forebears, for apocalyptic solace. These eschatological needs are still within me and going strong. They include a desire for angels as messengers of the apocalypse, an irrational longing for the rewards of paradise, and an overwhelming desire to witness those less pure of heart than myself receive their fiery comeuppance.

Fortunately, unlike my forebears, I have not had to run riot over the Bavarian countryside acting out my delusions by stringing up debauched clerics and those belonging to the so-called hostile faiths, but have been able to sublimate the evolutionary inanities through art. I am happy to report that The Children of Men does at times rise to that exalted level.

Here is a world in which men have gone sterile. You just can't find fertile semen anymore. Some women, denied their customary reproductive roles, have gone bonkers. They end up baptizing cats and dolls and such. (Other women, one imagines, are dancing a jig so tickled are they to never again have to risk another perineum tear.) One thing I liked was the image of the world preparing to go on without mankind. For in the vacuum left by the end of human fertility all the other flora and fauna seem to redouble their efforts.

Our hero is Theodore Faron. A sardonic at times bitter retired professor of history at Oxford--there are no more children to teach--who ran his daughter over in a tragic accident many years ago. His wife never forgave him, then she started banging this rugby player half her age. Theo happens to be cousin to the Warden of England, Xan Lyppiatt, a childhood friend, who is running a thuggish police state. During the first half of the story the state is in the process of redistributing its thinning population to central locations for purposes of making delivery of services easier. At least that's the excuse. The first half is all clandestine meetings of the dissidents and background into Theo's boyhood relationship to Xan.

Then it turns into a road story not without parallels, though fleeting, to Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Though, it should be emphasized, this is not a post-apocalyptic world going-out-with-a-bang novel, like The Road, but rather a civilization fizzling-out-with-a-whimper story. Nevertheless there is sufficient violence and craziness and survivalist mentalities employed to keep everyone happy. There is an intimation of the second coming, personal betrayal of the basest sort, and headlong hysterical flight. There is an elegant density of diction that is consistent throughout, and I found that the descriptive sections, especially in the action-packed second half of the book, touch on the beautiful. Highly recommended for thriller lovers. Mandatory for lovers of dystopic fictions. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
No true spoilers...
I didn't realize until after I'd finished reading this book that the author of The Children of Men, P.D. James, is a woman. This pleased me immensely. At age 92, she is still alive. P.D. James has authored more than twenty books.

I watched the film adaptation of The Children of Men years before reading the book. I've got to say that I like the book better, but isn't that almost always the case?
None of this means that the movie is bad, but it is changed and it fails, as is inherently necessary to a time constrained piece of entertainment, to explain why certain things are happening and the particular motivations of the characters.

“I learned early and at that kitchen table that there are ways of avoiding, without guilt, the commitments of love.”
― P.D. James, The Children of Men

I fell in love with the protagonist, Theo. Theo lived in the world for more than fifty years as a person who was spiritually dead. He had no true connection to anyone or anything, he had no cause, no passion, nothing that touched him deeply. Then something remarkable in its simplicity and scarcity happens to change his entire understanding of the world and his place in it.

This story takes place in an alternate dystopian future in which the world has become infertile. No more children are being born and no one knows why. Stop a moment and contemplate that idea... what do you think would happen? Theo becomes involved with a woman who is pregnant, something unheard of in this time. The rest of the tale follows Theo and an unlikely band of rebels who want to change societal injustices which include drugged suicide of elders, state sanctioned and encouraged pornography, and forced gyn inspections of women to check for potential fertility.

I'm not certain that things would evolve the way they did in this story but it was certainly believable enough. As tragic as this sounds, the story is more about Theo and how he copes, evolves, processes his new awareness, as well as the difficult choices he makes. Theo learns to care.

I make it sound pretty banal, and I could never hope to capture and relay the true beauty of what happened to him but it is a remarkable journey.

“But what do you believe? I don't just mean religion. What are you sure of?"

"That once I was not and that now I am. That one day I shall no longer be.”
― P.D. James, The Children of Men

I love that this book confronts belief in God face on. To be more succinct, typically what I've seen in books of late is an effort to ignore or perhaps completely forget the presence of God in the lives of people. This is not to say that this books is religious, or that it touts specific religious beliefs or traditions, but it does manage to challenge belief, what that means, how it exists and affects certain people, but more importantly that people do think about these things whether to reject the idea of God or embrace the idea of God. Neither matters as much to me as embracing the fact that people do encounter these struggles and that in a situation such as living in a world where the entire population is less than 100 years from extinction, I think it fitting.

My only complaint about this book is that it is wordy. I make this complaint often, but this time it comes with a disclaimer. Typically when I read a book that is verbose, I can almost always think of ways to pare down the bulk without losing anything important. In this case, each and every word had a place and I wouldn't have thrown a single one away. The pacing was perfect to the telling of Theo's story.

I was both entertained and educated with this story as it taught me tons about story pacing and mood. Truly a lovely, hopeful, painful, gorgeous story. I'd read this again.

Lastly, to touch on a couple of things that I find important in the books that I read: Women and POC. I'll be brief here because I have no real complaints. The main female characters are very well represented here. The two most important women are Julian and Miriam. Julian is a young woman and she is our mother-to-be. She was the most difficult character to understand. She is cool, calculating, brutally honest and yet somehow innocent and childlike. I suppose it could be her youth and her upbringing as all Omegas (those of the last generation) are spoiled and doted upon. Miriam, her midwife and friend is an older Jamaican woman. She is intelligent, physically and mentally strong and acts as a benevolent voice of reason. I liked her character and the play of her intellect against Theo's. Theo, just coming into his own sense of self, is experiencing for the first time real pangs of guilt and regret for past wrongs and also for some of the difficult choices he is forced to make on his physical and emotional journey. He feels these things so strongly and freshly that he is not always able to process them well or move on to the next important decision. Miriam, validates his feelings but pushes him onward. She reminds him to live in the present.

The society itself is described as very similar to the one we live in, multicultural and multiracial but still with heaping doses of cultural and racial injustice and segregation. The presentation of this is honest but not over or under cooked. It exists in this tale as a distasteful truth and nothing more which I feel is realistic. No banners or flag waving, no pretended Utopian love-in.

“History, which interprets the past to understand the present and confront the future is the least rewarding discipline for a dying species. ”
― P.D. James, The Children of Men ( )
  khaalidah | Mar 14, 2014 |
Great page turner - philosophical science fiction in the manner of Dick's Man in the High Castle. I haven't read any of James' more traditional works but may now do so. ( )
  rlangston | Mar 5, 2014 |
An OB nurse notices that there are no appointments booked. The human race is faced with extinction when the ability to have babies has disappeared. This is a dark view of the future as human civilization is facing extinction. ( )
1 vote dougcornelius | Jan 30, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James, P.D.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Biavasco, AnnamariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guani, ValentinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Again, to my daughters
Clare and Jane
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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.
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Book description
The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307279901, Paperback)

Told with P. D. James's trademark suspense, insightful characterization, and riveting storytelling, The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future. The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:45 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

In 2021, with the human race becoming extinct because of the infertility of all males, Oxford historian Theodore Faron is drawn into the schemes of an unlikely group of revolutionaries out to save society.

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