Saturday, October 10, 2009

Read: The Children of Men by PD James

"Earlier this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty-three years, two months and twelve days."
And with this whopper of an opening sentence, PD James kicks the reader into this dystopian future. It takes a moment to sink in. The "last human being to be born on earth"? Whatever does that mean?

It all began in the Year Omega, or 1995, where "overnight, it seemed, teh human race had lost its power to breed. The discovery in July 1994 that even the frozen sperm stored for experiment and artificial insemination had lost its potency was a peculiar horror casting over Omega the pall of superstitious awe, of witchcraft, of divine intervention. The old gods reappeared, terrible in their power". In England, under the rule of the Warden, the elderly are encouraged to commit suicide, criminals are exiled to an island prison where visitors and communication with the outside world are forbidden.

Oxford historian Theodore Faron, the cousin and former adviser of the Warden, is approached by a woman named Julian, for help advocating her group's causes, which includes stopping compulsory sperm testing and the group suicides of the elderly. Theo's meeting with the Warden and his council doesn't quite work out but working with the dissidents (especially Julian) relights Theo's fire. Then something unexpected happens that has the group (and Theo) fleeing to Wales.

PD James is very masterful at the quiet kind of shock. She introduces vignettes of what life is like in this future, such as when Theo comes across a woman pushing a pram with a doll nestled inside: "The glossy irises, unnaturally large, bluer than those of any human eye, a gleaming azure, seemed to fix on him their unseeing stare which yet horrible suggested a dormant intelligence, alien and monstrous. The eyelashes, dark brown, lay like spiders on the delicately tinted porcelain cheeks and an adult abundance of yellow crimped hair sprung from beneath the close-fitting lace-trimmed bonnet."

It is a quiet book, it isn't all up and in your face. Initially, it stuns as the reader learns about its no-offspring world. But the pace slows down as the character of Theo is carved out. He isn't the most compelling of characters and that can take a lot of steam out of the book. However, I'm glad I stuck with it, as The Children of Men is incredibly thought-provoking and intriguing. Many of these fears are relevant today and this future that James created is just so sad and so unbearable.

(Source of book: My library)


Anonymous said...

I read this book in the summer too. It is a bit of a departure for PD James whom I like for her Dalgliesh murder mysteries, but I was glad I finished it. She wrote it nearly 20 years ago, and there is a movie inspired by it starring Clive Owen, the movie is only watchable if you like CO though.

RealLifeReading said...

Oh but I do quite like the dashing Mr Owen and am looking forward to the movie - although, yes, I hear that it is quite different from the book.