A Review of The Children of Men by P.D. James

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The Children of MenThe Chil­dren of Men by P.D. James

My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars  

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

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  • Sin­dios­es

    Fas­ci­nat­ing review, I loved the movie & am ready to read the book due to your overview

    • khaal­i­dah

      Enjoy! Thanks for stop­ping by.