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.