January 05, 2007
Book Review: The Children of Men by P. D. James
Unputdownable. Mesmerizing. Intriguing. Hopeful. It is these words that best describe the work that is P.D. James’s The Children of Men. Stepping out of genre (she is a mystery writer) but not out of skill, James has crafted a novel that is a Christian apologetic, a science fiction thriller, and a humanist manifesto. Seem contradictory to you? You’d be right. It is the contradiction that makes the novel so good, a potential classic.
Mankind has lost the ability to reproduce. The last children born, the Omegas, are now twenty-five years old. The race is dying slowly, but dying it is. Most of the world has fallen apart, but England still exists under the rulership of a dictator. It is a peaceful country where people wait to die, euthanasia of the old is commonplace, and criminals are exiled. In steps Theodore Faron, cousin to the Warden (dictator) of England. A dissident group tries to use his influence with the dictator to enact some reforms, but all this is put by the wayside when it is discovered that on of the dissidents, a social reject, is pregnant. Pursued for scientific study by a man they despise, the woman and her companions, including Faron run into the English countryside, now a wilderness of forests.
It is a compellingly fast-paced novel. What began as an attempt to read a few chapters before bed ended in a 1:30 bedtime and a finished novel. The reader will be unable to put this work down.
P.D. James’s Christian faith is very evident in the novel. Christian symbolism abounds, although the people, even the heroes, are frighteningly human. Faith and prayer are integral parts of the story. This then can be described as a Christian apologetic, a declaration of the need for faith in God, even in the most trying of times. The work will be called pro-life, and I am surprised, after treading it, that this book ever became a movie.
It is also a humanist manifesto, as it is humans who do the dirty work, humans who show their potential for good and evil, although ultimately it is the Christian God who works evil into good. Humanity’s last best hope is itself, and those social rejects such as the infirm, the damaged physically and mentally, who are our saviors.
This novel is stunning in the issues it tackles. Many of its fears are close to our own hearts, and we are left wondering whether or not this might indeed happen. Written in 1992, the timeline it uses will eventually make it outdated, but perhaps it will become like George Orwell’s 1984.
Do not approach this book a simply another science fiction book. See The Children of Men as a treatise on humanity, a look into the future at what our decisions to seek comfort and pleasure above all else may turn us into, even without such a major catastrophe as barrenness.Posted by John on January 5, 2007 10:19 AM | Posted to Literature and Language | Science Fiction