A Review: The Children of Men by PD James

Contains spoilers

It’s 2021 and no child has been born in the last 25 years. It appears that from 1995 all adults suddenly became infertile. The world is now faced with the fearful realisation that the end of the human race is imminent and there will be no one around to care for the elderly or do the jobs young people normally do.  

Our main character is Theo who is the cousin of the tyrannical warden of England. He lives a non-descript life as a history lecturer, living on his own after a failed marriage and the death of his young daughter. Theo is then introduced to Julian, a not-so-chance encounter, which, of course, changes the course of his non-descript life.

This book is quite literally written in two halves; Book One: Omega and Book Two: Alpha. But the two halves were distinct to me in different ways. When in the first half my family asked me if I was enjoying it and I wasn’t sure that I was. I often get suckered into reading a book because I like the way it’s written more than I like the story. I was enjoying the way James writes, but I was finding the story quite… dull. It could well have been mirroring the mundane nature of Theo’s existence to this point. But also, I didn’t like him as a character. He seemed weak willed, uncaring, going through the motions of life and checking off boxes. He came across as pompous, but very intelligent, on meeting his cousin – The Warden – his council, where Theo used to work as the Warden’s advisor, seemed to talk down to him, belittling his performance in his role. I can’t dislike a book just because the main character isn’t likeable, but I also found the narrative jerky. Some parts were written first person by Theo as journal entries, then the next chapter would be third person. I wasn’t sure of the reasoning behind the journal entries as the third person chapters still provided insight into he inner workings of Theo’s mind.

However, the second half, or the second book, is really where the action began. Julian, the young women from the first half, is part of a covert group trying to make changes to the way the country is being run. Largely they have issues with the living conditions of criminals sent to a lawless un-policed island where they must work the land to feed themselves despite very few having any skills in this area. The so-called ‘Quietus’, a ceremony in which the elderly commit mass suicide – but it’s supposed to be done voluntarily and this group believe there’s an element of force. But during their protest activities Julian discovers she’s pregnant. Of course now they’re being hunted by the police and their goal is now to protect Julian and her unborn baby; the first of a new generation. Theo is roped in again, but seemingly comes willingly as he realised he has fallen in love with her. Suddenly the book is action-packed; they’re set upon by a feral group of Omega’s, Theo robs and imprisons an elderly couple in search of supplies. Their gang slowly depletes as they’re either murdered or deserted. This unlikable character begins to soften, his pompous nature still there, but dulled. In finding himself in love with Julian his priorities change regardless of the implications in his own life.

The book, for me, is about power. In a world facing it’s end it’s easy to look at the leaders and pick holes in how they’re governing society, but as other characters find themselves in a position to effect change it becomes clear that their plans for the end of the world start to mirror the current so-called tyrannical leader. Even at the end of the book, with Julian’s child born successfully and safely Theo finds that he himself has the opportunity to seize power of the country, a country now not-so-doomed, and that power is intoxicating and we’re left not knowing how life will now play out in the aftermath of a new child being born.

Overall I really enjoyed The Children of Men. The first half was difficult to get into, but the second half made up for it. I guess you could say it’s speculative fiction, but bordering on apocalyptic. Both are genres I’ve read and enjoyed before and the open question is a brave ending. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, which I’m actually now questioning if I should have given it 3. What would you give it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: