The year is 2021. No child has been born for twenty-five years. The human race faces extinction. Under the despotic rule of Xan Lyppiat, the Warden of England, the old are despairing and the young cruel. Theo Faren, a cousin of the Warden, lives a solitary life in this ominous atmosphere. That is, until a chance encounter with a young woman leads him into contact with a group of dissenters. Suddenly his life is changed irrevocably as he faces agonising choices which could affect the future of mankind.
©1994 P.D James; (P)2008 BBC Audiobooks Ltd
"A book of such accelerating tension that the pages seem to turn faster as one moves along." (Chicago Tribune)
"As scary and suspenseful as anything in Hitchcock." (The New Yorker)
In my opinion this is one of those rare cases in which the movie outshines the book, but that said, this is an interesting listen, just much more subtle than the movie version. I had an EXTREMELY HARD TIME getting through the first hour, I found the reader to be dull and inanimate, but I am glad I stuck it out.
'Children of Men' has a fascinating premise, but doesn't quite work.
The best parts of the book are in the first half. There, P.D. James is less interested in story and more interested in exploring the mentality of the world she has created, and how the human psyche might transform under universal infertility. Her ideas about this are frightening and plausible, and she links it well to the feelings undergone by any parent who has lost a child. Parts of it are moving and thought-provoking.
But as the plot develops, it feels horribly clumsy and implausible at times, and the tone is odd, combining thoughtful, introspective ponderings about humanity with hackneyed plot elements from the most cliched dystopian fiction (evil totalitarian dictator, only one man can save the human race, bla bla). It has a tiresomely awkward narrative structure that clunks between 1st person and 3rd person narration for no obvious reason.
The oddest thing about the novel is the way everyone's terribly old fashioned and middle class; it's all Oxford dons, visits to the Ashmolean, reading groups, and church sermons and cups of tea. The anti-government rebels are like a neighbourhood watch group; this is played for comedy at first, but later we seem expected to take them seriously. I think all of this is deliberate - P.D. James is satirizing the British tendency to retreat into conservative stuffiness in the face of doom - but it seems odd never to depict the rest of the country beyond Oxford suburbia, and the old-fashioned atmosphere feels wrong in a futuristic novel.
Although it lacks the philosophical depth of the novel, I preferred the film, which is intricate, tightly constructed and clearly understands its own genre and the aims of its satire; the novels feels like a misfire.
Julian Glover does a good job as reader though.
Unlike the first reviewer, I found the early chapters of this book fascinating. While listening, I kept thinking I'd seen the movie many years ago. I'll have to check it out on Netflix to be sure.
Anyway, it's a wonderfully written book, rich with imagery and emotion. I've tried to compare it with "1984" and "Brave New World" but somehow it's different in a way I can't quite describe.
If you've enjoyed reading or listening to either of these books you'll most likely enjoy "The Children of Men".
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