The Children of Men
P. D. James
(cover art by Roy Mehta)
faber and faber 1992
The year is 2021. No child has been born twenty-five years. The human race fears extinction. Under the despotic rule of Xan Lyppiatt, 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 agonizing choices which could affect the future of mankind.
It took me forever to get through this book, because it’s so dense with information, details, thoughts and feelings. Don’t worry, there’s no info-dumping, there’s just a lot that happens on one page (whether that’s real or thoughts) that I had to put it down every once in a while and think about what I’d just read. All in a good way, mind you.
The horrors of this world are beautifully described and made me feel like I was right there with the main character Theo, through the worlds that James uses, I could feel the desperation of the people who would be last to roam the earth. I can still feel it thinking about it again. Obviously the things that happen also help in this respect.
I thought the story itself was quite unique. I don’t think I’ve read a story before of the extinction of the human race in this manner; where they see it coming. Sure, there’s plenty of dystopian/post-apocalyptic worlds were humans have almost gone extinct, but that was through warfare, aliens, or by destroying the environment. This one, not being able to father children anymore, seems very different: they can practically predict when it’s the end for everyone, yet have no way to stop it. Scientist might be their only hope, but they’re also drawing blanks.
All of the above is helped by the amount of detail James wrote into the story. So many things happen that are not relevant to the plot, but really help to set the scene.
What I got from this book while reading it, was a 1984 George Orwell vibe. I suppose that might stop some people from reading this book, but I loved 1984 and The Children of Men as well.