Book Review: The Children of Men

Book Name: The Children of Men
Author: P.D. James
First Published: 1992

Phyllis Dorothy James, commonly known as P.D. James, was born on August 3, 1920 in Oxford. She studied at the British School in Ludlow and Cambridge High School for Girls. Her father, Sidney James, was a tax inspector.

Due to financial constraints and her father’s belief that girls did not need higher education, James left school when she was 16 years old. She worked for several years before she married army doctor Ernest Connor Bantry in 1941. The couple had two daughters, Jane and Claire, but when her husband returned from World War II, he was mentally ill and was placed in a psychiatric institution. James was forced to be the family breadwinner until her husband died in 1964. She studied hospital administration and worked in the National Health Service from 1949 to 1968.

James began writing in the mid-1950s. Two years after her first novel Cover Her Face was published, she began working in the criminal section of the Home Office in the UK. She continued being a public servant until her retirement. James used her work experience in many of her novels. Much of her work feature UK’s bureaucracies, such as the National Health Service and the criminal justice system.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Society of Literature. She has won several awards for her writing and was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983. She became a life peer in the House of Lords in 1991 and President of the Society of Authors in 1997. In 2008, she was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame at the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards.

P.D. James is most popular for her detective series starring the policeman Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard. In the 1980s, several of James’ mystery novels were made into television shows and aired in the UK as well as in other countries such as the USA. Her dystopian novel, The Children of Men, was adapted into a 2006 feature film starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine.

Charm is often despised but I can never see why. No one has it who isn’t capable of genuinely liking others, at least at the actual moment of meeting and speaking. Charm is always genuine; it may be superficial but it isn’t false. – P.D. James

It is the year 2021. The world population is steadily decreasing and there is mass infertility. People last gave birth in 1995 and humanity is facing imminent extinction. In desperation, people are treating newborn animals as their babies. The members of the youngest generation, called “Omegas”, are now all adults but are spoiled, violent, and contemptuous of their elders. Nevertheless, they are prized for their youth and are thus treated to luxurious lifestyles and are never punished. The British Omegas are prohibited from leaving the country but workers from poorer countries are lured and made to do the undesirable work then sent back once they reach 60. The old and the sick are considered a burden, with only the privileged ones given care while the rest are encouraged or even forced to kill themselves in a legalized mass drowning called Quietus.

The rich and influential Xan Lyppiatt is the self-appointed Warden of England and has replaced democracy with an egalitarian regime due to the people’s lack of interest in politics. Dr. Theodore “Theo” Faron, a historian at the Oxford University and Xan’s cousin, is approached by Julian, a female dissident who belongs to the group Five Fishes. The group wants Theo’s help in asking Xan to implement reforms before they start a revolution. The rebels want Xan to bring back democracy, to shut down the isolated penal colony on the Isle of Man, and to stop the mass suicide of the old and the infirm. Theo agrees but his meeting with Xan ends up being a meeting with all the five members of the Council of England, the country’s governing body. The meeting is a failure as Xan does not agree with the demands. Xan suspects that Theo’s suggestions come from others and plans to move against the dissidents.

The State Secret Police visits Theo and the latter tells Julian about the visit before traveling around Europe for several months to see the continent before it becomes overrun by nature. When he returns, he finds out that the dissidents have continued the revolution by distributing pamphlets and sabotaging wharves and that one of them has been arrested while attempting to blow up a mass suicide facility. Theo also learns that Julian is pregnant. At first, he thinks Julian is just delusional, but changes his mind when he hears the baby’s heartbeat. The group now struggles to keep Julian and her baby safe during their flight.

My first exposure to PD James was via the motion picture The Children of Men starring Clive Owen and Micheal Cain. I found the storyline and concept of the movie to be unique and later, I went on to read the book that the movie was based on. I discovered that the film and the book are rather different. The movie had plenty of suspense and action, while the book delved more into the political makeup of this futuristic England and had long passages of description that perhaps could have been shorter and to the point.

The Children of Men Book CoverThe idea of the Omega generation is chilling. The thought that this was the end of humanity and no more after us, is heartbreaking. I can see some of the behavior of the women in this book in today’s culture. Many people are child-free and do dote on their pets as if they were children, just as the characters in James’ book would push dolls around in prams or christen their cats. After I finished the book, I confess that it was good to see our neighborhood kids playing outside as usual. Global infertility has not quite reached us yet.

Dystopian science fiction lets us see into a dark possible future, but shining a light into those shadows is often a way to avoid the pitfalls ahead. I recommend reading The Children of Men, it is a classic that should be experienced.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Children of Men”

  1. Thanks for featuring this. Children of Men (the movie) is one of my all-time favorites and I completely forgot that it was based off her book. Now I need to get myself a copy to read!

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