Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Children of Men

Baroness James of Holland Park is probably best known for her novels about Adam Dalgliesh and Cordelia Gray and for the television series based on the former, but I chose her dystopian novel The Children of Men to begin my acquaintance with James.

I'd seen the 2006 movie based on the novel, and I begin the book curious about why the movie changed the cause of the impending end of human reproduction. (It's mass male infertility in the book, female infertility in the movie -- a commercially wise decision, perhaps, given that men are said not to read books anymore. Who wants to pick up a book and get blamed for the impending extinction of humanity?)

The novel's strength in its opening chapters is the matter-of-fact first-person narration by a historian named Theodore Faron, who begins a diary of his middle age with the news that the last known human being to have been born on Earth has died. Oddly enough, the world has managed to continue on its way for two decades after the end of human fertility, and Faron's diary is as personal and idiosyncratic as diaries are supposed to be, yet full of chilling details. I'll leave you with my two favorite, then go back to my reading:

"History, which interprets the past to understand the present and confront the future, is the least rewarding discipline for a dying species." 
and

"It was in that year, 2008, that the suicides increased. Not mainly among the old, but among my generation, the middle-aged, the generation who would have to bear the brunt of an ageing and decaying society’s humiliating but insistent needs."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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12 Comments:

Anonymous solo said...

I was surprised recently to find an entire shelf in my local bookshop devoted to dystopian fiction. Most of the books seemed to be called The Hunger Games, for some reason.

If this comment comes through, I'm not as drunk as I thouht I was!

February 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Since I write this from a bar, I will not presume to pass judgment.

February 26, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

P.D. James is one of the last great stylists. I stand in awe of some of her scenes. Less so, when it comes to plots and Adam Dalgleish.

February 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That squares nicely with my experience with the opening chapter or two of The Children of Men. They're beautifully written, especially impressive since they include little or no action. It's a little early for me to judge the plot, though.

February 26, 2012  
Blogger Kiwicraig said...

I didn't actually realise James wrote CHILDREN OF MEN until I was preparing for an interview with her in the lead-up to her 90th birthday in 2010. We chatted a bit about the book and the changes they made in the movie. Here's a snippet of what she had to say:

“I thought the direction and acting were wonderful. Sometimes people say ‘do you mind what they did to your book?’ and I say ‘well, they can’t do anything to my book, they can’t alter a single comma’. What they’ve done is make a film from my story... and I think it was a very, very good film.”

February 26, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

One of my favorites. I read it in the '90s when I came across it at work and read the back and thought "Really?" It sounded atypical of her other books, but as a big fan of (almost) all things post-apoc or dystopian, I took it straight home. It's still among my top picks for the genre.

February 26, 2012  
Blogger Glenna said...

This is the one I believe Adrian recommended. I'll be intersted in your thoughts when you've finished it.

February 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Craig, I also liked the movie. The alterations I've noticed so far are the sex change and, I believe, the age at death of the last human to have been born. (I think he was 18 in the movie.) I also quite like P.D. James' sane attitude.

She is scheduled to be a guest of honor at Crimefest in Bristol. I am booked to attend, and I will look forward to hearing from her.

February 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, I'm not generally post-apocalyptic except when thinking about my job, my company, and my industry. But I have feeling that the initial chapters of this book are a bit more typical of James' style, which is unexpected for an apocalytic or post-apocalyptic novel. Once the books starts narrating action, it gets just a little bit weaker.

February 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Glenna, I'll be interested in my own reactions, since post-apocalyptic reading is not normally my cup of tea.

February 27, 2012  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

I'll be interested to see what you think of this one, Peter. It didn't do much for me.

February 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, I'm also having trouble figuring out why she switched between first- and third-person. And I think the book is stronger on narration than on action so far.

February 28, 2012  

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