Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Children of Men - P.D. James

   1992; 351 pages. New Author? : No.  Genre : Dystopian Literature.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    The year 1995 is called “Omega” because it was when the last child was born on earth.  At first, everyone thought it was just a statistical fluke.  When it continued, everyone was confident that science would find the cause and develop a cure. 

    It is now 2021 and all hope has pretty much vanished.  After a quarter of a century, old age has taken its toll, as the remaining population consolidates into a few urban areas and waits for the inevitable extinction of the species.  

    Theo Faron is a somewhat privileged person; he’s the cousin and former advisor to the Warden of England, Xan Lyppiatt, who is in charge of administering governmental services to the diminishing population in these final years.  Like everyone else, he awaits the coming doom with stoic resignation.  But there are always some people who still want to change the world.

What’s To Like...
     The Children of Men is a one-off book by P.D. James, who is much better known for her detective series featuring Adam Dalgliesh.  Technically, it isn’t a dystopian novel – everyone is just trying to make the best of a hopeless situation – and no one considers it to be a perfect world.  But all the dystopian earmarks are present, and for me it had a very “Fahrenheit 451” feel.

    The premise is original, the writing is superb, and the world-building is excellent.  A lot of the book is set in the Surrey section of England, which I’m familiar with and love.  And since this is P.D. James’ mother country, the book is written in ”English”, not “American”.  There aren’t a lot of characters to keep track of, but those that you meet are all well-developed. 

    The book is a platform for Ms. James to give her thoughts about some of the hot-button topics, such as euthanasia, immigration, and prison reform.  She also handles the “if you were facing the end of civilization, what would you do?” question with keen insight.  There is much food for thought here.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Diktat (n.)  :  An order or decree imposed by someone in power without popular consent.

    “I’ve never quite seen the point of the Quietus although you seemed keen on them, Felicia.”
    Felicia said: “They began spontaneously.  About twenty eighty-year-olds in a house in Sussex decided to organize a coach party to Eastbourne, then, hand in hand, jumped over Beachy Head.  It became something of a fashion.  Then one or two Local Councils thought they ought meet an obvious need and organize the thing properly.  Jumping off cliffs may be an easy way out for the old people but someone has the unpleasant job of clearing away the bodies.”  (pg. 137)

    “Theo, look.  Isn’t this beautiful?”
    He turned and came up beside her.  She was standing beside a tall overgrown hawthorn heavy with red berries.  From its top bough there cascaded a white froth of travelers’ joy, delicate as a veil, through which the berries shone like jewels.  Looking at her rapt face, he thought, I only know it’s beautiful; she can feel its loveliness.  (pg. 321)

 “Nothing is compulsory at Woolcombe, except unhappiness.”  (pg.  29)
    The setting and premise may be great, but the storytelling was meh.  A lot of the passages are overly descriptive, and this leads to slow spots.  I found the “diary” chapters particularly tedious.

    There wasn’t much of a plotline, and not a lot of action either.  The ending felt forced and rushed, and I didn’t find it plausible.

    Still, it’s dystopian, it’s thought-provoking, and P.D. James handles words like a maestro.  If you prefer character-driven stories over thrills-&-spills, you will likely find this an excellent book.  My quibbles may well be due to simply expecting a different kind of narrative.

    7 Stars.  The plusses outweigh the minuses.  But my next dystopian book will probably be Catching Fire.

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