Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"The Children of Men" by P.D. James [Review]

The Children of MenThe Children of Men by P.D. James
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this novel after I saw the movie, and discovered this novel is one of the rare exceptions where the movie is better than the novel. It's not that it was badly written. It's just that the author had the wrong focus.

The novel is set in a near future where humanity has lost the ability to have children. Worldwide sterility has persisted for so long that an entire generation has grown up without any children at all. England has become a dictatorship ruled by Xan Lyppiatt. The main character is Dr. Theodore "Theo" Faron, who becomes embroiled in a conflict between a dissident group called the Five Fishes and Xan, his childhood friend and cousin. Along the way, Theo discovers one of the radicals is pregnant with the first unborn child in decades.

I know it's unfair to compare a novel is to a movie, but I thought the movie's focus on the implications of a world without children worked well. The novel spent too much time on the politics of the dystopian England. It seemed like P.D. James became fascinated with how someone becomes a dictator. There's a lengthy account of how Xan grew up and ultimately rose to power, which I didn't care about at all. The novel eventually boils down to a discussion on power and the abuse of power. Meanwhile, the story of a childless world became pushed into the background. Honestly, I think P.D. James could have cut out the sterility angle of the novel, and ended up with the same book.

That's not to say it was entirely ignored. The novel does delve deeper into the building of the childless world. One of my favorite passages described how some infertile women had been driven insane, and treated dolls as real children. I wish that part had been in the movie.

The Children of Men is a good novel held back from becoming a great novel.

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