The Children of Men
by P.D. James
3.69 out of 5 stars on Goodreads
I have a good feeling as to why this book hasn’t reached the ‘4’ star on Goodreads – you either become enthralled in its magic, or you don’t.
Anyone wanting to read this book simply to compare it to the movie would be shooting themselves in the foot – for one, the book does not nearly include as much action as its big screen counterpart, and the protagonist is several years older and actually a bit of a flawed character (read: personality, not literary – how confusing is the English language?!).
For those of you who don’t know anything about this book, or the film, the plot follows ex-advisor to the Warden of England (snazzy title right? Wardens remind me of prisons, possibly James’s whole point?), Theodore Faron (Clive Owen’s character in the film) as he tries to navigate a childless world. He meets a band of, I suppose you could call them revolutionaries (though what exactly is left for them to revolt about is a question left unanswered) comprising of five people – the Five Fishes, they’re called. They come to Theodore, “Theo”, because of his connection with the Warden – they’re cousins, as well as ex-colleagues – but Theo is a solitary man and reluctantly does as they bid, which is to implore the Warden cease certain activities and provide rights for what little of the human race is left.
What the film fails to accomplish (though forgive me, it is a decade since I saw it) is how terrible the world would actually be without young people – the youngest in this dystopian world being 25. While I doubt every woman would weep at their empty wombs and lives and attempt to recreate the act of child-bearing using kittens instead (cats can still give birth, so each kitten is christened and dressed in dolls’ clothes and walked around in a pram) should something of this nature happen to us, P.D. James does present a childless world to us in a very sobering and yet refreshing way.
It’s refreshing because how many of us under 35 have been called a ‘millennial’ and in an almost derogatory way?
“Millennials are lazy.”
“Millennials are disrespectful.”
“Millennials want everything handed to them on a plate.”
But without us, without the young, what purpose does life hold? As James writes it, not having the next generation be born into a world they can shape the older generations keep getting older, and with no-one to teach, no-one to pass along their wisdom, their learnings, their warnings and bad examples.
So the first part of the novel astounds me in its stark emptiness. So stark is it, I don’t really baulk when we learn Theo accidentally killed his young child when he was married – and seemingly feels no real remorse.
Then the rest of the novel follows Theo and Julian (meant to be Julie-Ann but a mistake on the birth certificate meant this lasting confusion), who against all science and mankind, is pregnant.
The book’s conclusion can’t necessarily be told, you have to read it for yourself. All I can say, is that it’s not a surprising conclusion, it’s not a heart-racer or a shock-horror, it’s exactly what you expect it to be: the birth of a child.
And yet, there’s something about this, the way James writes it, that shows you it’s so much more. There’s a true understanding about what birth is, and at the end of it all (childbirth and the book), labour is not magnificent or profound or even magical, it just is – what the book sets you up for is this empty void, desperately trying to fill itself with meaning, with purpose, with life, and the ending nails it in one.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a maternal person – give me a puppy or even cute dog and I will sit and coochy-coo it all day – but there’s something about life, blossoming, particularly when all that’s presented to you beforehand is life, frail and desolate – like a blade of grass yellowing under a desert sun.