Friday, February 20

Book Review: The Children of Men

Title: The Children of Men

Author: P.D. James

Pages: 239

Summary: In this astonishing novel, an entirely new departure in her writing, P.D. James imagines a future England where human infertility has spread like a plague. By year 2021 no babies have been born for a quarter of a century anywhere in the inhabited world. The very old are being driven to despair and suicide, and the final generation of the young are beautiful but violent and cruel. The middle-aged are trying to sustain normality, under the absolute rule of Xan Lyppiatt, the charismatic dictator and Warden of England.
Theo Faron is an Oxford Historian and cousin of the Warden, living in a solitary, self-regarding life in this ominous atmosphere. By chance at Evensong in Magdalen College he meets a young woman, one of a small group who seek to challenge the power of the Warden’s regime. Theo’s life is dramatically changed and he is drawn into almost unimaginable horrors. . . .

My Rating: 4.5/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: Anyone who has seen the movie, is likely looking at my rating and screaming at me why? Well, lets just say, this is one of those very very RARE cases, where the movie is by far, WAY better then the book. About a million times better than then book. There I said it. I can’t believe I said it, but I have. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Why do I say such a thing? Well for starters, the book and movie are completely different. The only thing they share is dystopian world that’s infertile. And some of the characters have the same names, and a woman is now pregnant. And only in the last ninety pages, that there is any running/hiding due to the pregnancy. So the rest of the story, was prolonged and out drawn story lines, where virtually nothing happens. A group tries to up heave the government, but they do nothing but hand out some leaflets and blow up a few plank. Which is a lazy and creative way for the author to write 150 pages, before the story actually begins, I get the idea she was trying to show the reader, but really, either have your characters fight against the government and actually mean it or don’t do it. I got the feeling they were just doing it for the sake of it. They didn’t seem to care much about their “cause” if they had, they would have been less lazy about it.
But that is just the beginning. The movie, for those who have seen it, sends such a powerful message, it’s filled with emotion, and haunting parallels, that are absent from the book. The book has no emotion what so ever. The characters are drones, who just live life day after day, and a lot of their way of thinking and events that happens in the book is highly, unbelievable. For one, the live in a society where criminals are heavily policed, to the point theft means your sent to a exile Island, for life, where people would prefer death, than to be sent there, yet the Omagas, the youngest generation, in their late twenties and thirties, run around killing people, and getting away with everything? REALLY? I mean, either it’s a policed state, or it’s a place where crime is easy to get away with. The author states one thing yet shows the other.
Another major issue was that her descriptions, made me want to throw the bloody book across the room. If it wasn’t a library book, I might have. She goes out on these long tangents to describe useless things, such as details how soup from tin cans was made and combined together. SOUP! Really? Unless the soup contained the answer to infertility, then why go into such extensive detail about it? I’m one who likes descriptiveness, when an author explains the setting of a mountain backdrop, or something useful, but Soup….seriously? There are a lot of examples I could give about the pages and pages devoted to detailed information, that in no way, further the plot, but it’s far to painful to repeat.
The author also goes into great detail about Theo’s life and back story, which adds nothing to the story, except he and his cousin, are not close, and he has no ability to have emotion. That is, until the last thirty pages of the book. Which is another major plot hole, how can someone who for the entire book, not care about anything, who has no ability to have emotion, I mean, he didn’t care when he ran over his own fifteen-month old daughter, (actually, he seamed more concerned, although he claimed it wasn’t the case, that his wife didn’t say to him, it wasn’t his fault, the actual act of killing her) but suddenly, after having a loveless life, falls in love with a woman, and is fascinated and in love with the baby, and found religion, after he never really thought of it before. A lot of other reviewers have noted the same issue, about Theo’s magically turn around. One page he’s an ass, the next he’s not.
Overall a terrible book. Great premise, bad execution. The movie version is by far better, both the Director and Screen writer deserve awards, for turning the book into that masterpiece.

Would I recommend it to read: No. Read something more worth your time. Don’t waste it on this. There is plenty of dystopian literature out there, that has good quality writing and story to it. This, is just…… not worth it. Watch the movie instead, if you haven’t yet. And I can’t believe I just said that, but I have.

What to read next: Oryx and Crake, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World are a few titles instead. But this list is more of, what to read instead of, not read next. Trust me.

Challenges: 100+ Challenge, 999 Challenge, Support Library Challenge, A - Z Challenge, New Author Challenge


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I thought the movie was great. I had no idea it was based on a book. Thanks for the honest review. I'm going to pass on this anyway, since I don't usually read books after I've seen the movie. That's why I always try to read the book first, but I'm glad it was the other way around in this case. (Sorry about the deleted comment, computer issues. UGH)

    Diary of an Eccentric

  3. There's been a few times where I've seen the movie before the book. Most of them happened in a Literature course, where we watched the movies, instead of the books. But Children of Men, has been the only huge disappointment. Because at least for other books, like Mansfield Park (saw movie first, loved Fanny's character, which lacks in the book,) but at leas other things make up for it. Children of Men lacked it. Such a disappointment. The book was on my TBR list for a long time. I'm glad I didn't pay for it, and it was only a library book.

  4. I read this book a long time ago, but thought it was great. Really liked your review.

  5. Sorry, should have clarified. Your review gave me a different perspective and a few things to think on. I do agree that the movie was better, much richer in terms of story development. At the time I read the book, the movie was far from even being in production. I am sure if I had to compare the two my reactions would have been much different, but at the time I enjoyed the book.

  6. This book is flawed on so many levels.

    It has one good idea, an idea already used by other writers in other better books. The Handmaidens Tale for example. There are some nice touches to the imagined dystopian reality, like the worship given to pet birth and the adoration of dolls and old TV programs. But these well thought out consequences of such a dystopia do not make up for the gaping flaws in the plot.

    As the fertility problem is due to male infertility only a single fertile man is obviously the most previous commodity. However the death of this one fertile man is treated with very little significance. His sperm could have re-populated the entire world, yet it is the fate of one baby that is given gravitas. There are so many annoying literally stupid moments. Like a driver using star nivagation to drive twenty miles from Oxford on roads with signage, or a woman who is killed within two seconds by strangulation.

    Why do they drive into the middle of nowhere to deliver the baby just to avoid the state, just to have the state turn up as if by magic within hours of their arrival?

    Why do they drive for miles to find a secret secure place to hold up in only to pass numerous deserted buildings filled with resources just to end up in a barn without any running water?

    How on earth does the main character take over the country simply by shooting the Warden and then placing a ring on his finger?

    The scene where the car is surrounded by feral omegas and the resulting escape is completely bonkers and unbelievable.

    Why would anyone remove the blood soaked jacket from a dead guy to survive a single night in a wood in England?

    Why after escaping a savage gang of feral omegas do they just wander around the area and even return to the spot of the attack to bury the victim? You would run like hell.

    Why after only one night in a wood is everyone acting as if they are on the verge of starvation?

    In short the 'story' makes no sense at all. The ending is awful and lazy. And there is no reason for anything that does happen to happen. The entire book was based upon a single idea and musings of it's consequences, with no clear plot at all.

  7. Paul - Thank for the comments, you made a few points, I had to stretch my memory of the book, because it's been so long since I read it. And you're right, the book is full of plot holes. That don't match up. Again, thanks for the insightful comments.

  8. I didn't like the novel, either, and I agree with most of the critiques above. To these I want to add only one thing that drove me nervous from the beginning to the end of the novel: It doesn't feel like it's set in 2020's at all! The timing of the events is just for the sake of putting in some period between the last birth and the current state of affairs (in the novel). That is, roughly, the timing is just for the sake of timing! Concerning the tools, gadgets, vehicles, objects, etc. there is simply nothing that allows the reader to imagine that the novel is set in the future (e.g. cars working with fuel, radio in a car, public phone). This is annoying! The author could have set the Year Omega as 1967 (instead of 1995) and thus the events could take place right in the year she was writing her book. This way, there would be no incosistency with regards to the fabric of the world of the novel. It may be because P.D. James deliberately wanted this world not to sound oo distant or alien to hers
    (i.e. the real world of 1992). But even if we let her intention to be so, I think this still puts her fictive powers under suspicion.

    In short, from my viewpoint, the pseudo-future world of "The Children of Men" signifies a distasteful laziness on the part of its creator.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I never even focused on the year the book sets it, versus the actual timing of the real world.