Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Review: The Children of Men, by P.D. James


Absolutely brilliant. I'd never read P.D. James before, though I know her reputation among mystery buffs is unimpeachable, and of course I've seen the film adaptation, which I like very much.The Children of MenBut this novel very different from what I expected . . . there's very little "science" to this science fiction classic; instead I'd call it "philosophy-fiction." The Children of Men shines an unnerving light on the moral lassitude of a race with, quite literally, no future. But in James's vision, it's not the sudden flash-apocalypse of nuclear destruction or viral plague which brings the crisis, but a protracted period of infertility during which humanity has the leisure to contemplate its own pointlessness and existential fear -- and reacts accordingly.It's a society where senior citizens commit mass suicide in a state-sponsored ritual called the "Quietus"; where the last generation of children (the "Omegas") are treated like spoiled royalty; and where draconian government policies become embraced as part and parcel of giving what remains of society "freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom from boredom."

As seen through the eyes of historian and former Oxford don Theo Faren -- "former" because the only educational efforts now are soft courses which keep the population entertained -- it's a world of moral greys, which gradually turn, for him, into black-and-whites when he is approached for help by a former student who is, miraculously, pregnant.

The tale that follows is a subtle morality play, beautifully written and realized. Unlike the film, which has been recast in a more gritty, depressing and obviously "dystopian" light, James's novel, though containing horrors aplenty, also revels in the beauty of an English countryside gone back to nature, focuses on the moral considerations of what it means to be human . . . and holds out the hope that there will always be those among us who will choose the right path rather than the easy one.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

An aside note: I remember we talked awhile back about how the movie director Curaon changed the cause of fertility from male (in the book) to female. One could argue that Curaon was pandering to male moviegoers' discomfort with the idea of impotent sperm, but I actually found his argument compelling--that female infertility somehow felt more globally hopeless, and fit with his dystopian vision. And there was no gender blame in the movie. So it worked for me. Question: is the book more compelling than "Never Let Me Go?" (Which to me was just like "Remains Of the Day" with organ donation.)