Christopher's Reviews > The Children of Men

The Children of Men by P.D. James
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Mar 15, 2009

really liked it
Read in March, 2009

Though it's been sitting on my bookshelf for years (my wife's copy), and though I quite enjoyed the movie, I didn't get around to reading "The Children of Men" by P.D. James until recently. I found it to be an easy read, but enjoyable written. James has a nice command of the language and manages to put together fairly dense paragraphs that nonetheless don't bog the reader down. I read the book essentially in two sittings -- the first 100 pages on a plane, and the rest of it in an afternoon in a hotel room.

I went into the book knowing it was very different from the movie, so I was unsurprised by this fact, but it still bears repeating. There really is only a skeleton of James's vision in the final film. The premise: that humanity has endured roughly twenty years of sudden-onset, incurable sterility, is fascinating. James does a good job of painting a picture of an England in which personal and social freedoms are slowly being drained away, and very few people care. Even the protagonist - a character who is not fully likable but more human than many heroes - is caught up in the general ennui that, James seems to posit, stems from the need for a defense mechanism against the terrible knowledge of humanity's impending extinction.

Needless to say, his view is slowly changed as events unfold, culminating in a race against both time and the dictatorial English government. I found myself engrossed in the story and horrified by some of the things which occurred. Unlike the film, which literally starts with a bang, there is very little violence on display through the first half of the book. This makes the first instance of such - particularly given against whom the act is performed - supremely disturbing to both the reader and the protagonist. In effect the violence is more powerful because there is less of it. This continues throughout the book: the vast majority of atrocities being committed in the world, both inside and outside of England, are only hinted at. The violence we're allowed to see is deeply personal.

The novel unravels a bit near the end, in my opinion. Some decisions are made that seem to happen more for the convenience of the plot than for the characters. There is a gun with a single bullet prominently involved in the second half of the story, and there is very, very little doubt about who that bullet is intended for. Also, it becomes increasingly more heavy-handed in its Christian overtones, which isn't really my thing. Still, I enjoyed it quite a bit and highly recommend it.
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