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3.9 out of 5 stars
The Children of Men
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Theo Faron is an uncomfortable hero, perhaps even an anti-hero. Beginning with Theo's diary entry for 1st January 2021, we are asked to empathise with a fifty year old man who has never loved, in spite of having been married and fathered a child. He writes with more warmth of the family cat, and turns his back on an old colleague in his hour of need. It's hardly surprising that Theo isn't exactly slitting his wrists at the idea of humankind dying out. He doesn't seem to like humans very much anyway.

All this changes, however - as so often happens - with the arrival of a beautiful woman, the oddly-named Julian, a pre-Raphaelite goddess with a misshapen hand. (The polar opposite of Julianne Moore's gung ho character in the film, if you've seen it.) Julian is one of a small group of would-be activists, wanted by the State Security Police. The moment that Theo's diary gives way to breathless ramblings about this nubile creature buying oranges in the supermarket, you know it's only a matter of time before he too is in trouble.

The book is divided into two sections - Omega and Alpha. Omega makes good use of the diary conceit to feed us the ghastly details of James's imagined Britain: desperate woman pushing dolls about in prams; christenings held for kittens; old people 'encouraged' to take their own lives. With this cowardly new world firmly established, book two - Alpha - cranks up the pace, with a cat and mouse pursuit through the countryside. A more traditional third-person narrative takes hold of the story when it's no longer safe enough for Theo to keep a diary. The violence is real and bloody, and some tight plotting saves plenty of surprises for the end.

Religious symbolism is there in spades if you want it. It's a genuinely thought-provoking book for many reasons, but just read it as a good old-fashioned thriller if you like. Yes, P.D. James is a little stuffy at times, a litte stern - a tightly-corseted Victorian governess of a writer - but once Theo is free of his precious Oxford museums the story itself takes on new life. If you've seen the film and didn't like it, try the book anyway - they're chalk and cheese.

My only real complaint is that James has an annoying habit of introducing several characters at once - in painstaking detail. The scenes where Theo meets the activist group and then, later, the Warden's Council, remind you all of a sudden that you're reading about this in a book instead of actually living the story. The narrative breaks for an intricate description of each character, one by one, and then resumes just as suddenly. An amateur mistake for such a smoothly professional writer.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
In a world where no child has been born for 25 years a small group of five rebels begin to plan to challenge the ruling dictatorship of England. But the five are far from united and seek help from Theo Faron, an academic who is the cousin of Xan the Warden of England. He believes there are many injustices and agrees to help them albeit reluctantly. He is also strongly attracted to Julian, a mysterious and lovely member of the group.

The Children of Men is a beautifully written dystopic novel The infertility has caused changes in attitudes and morality as the population becomes distorted. Many social issues are raised:
-"voluntary" suicides of the elderly
-indulgence of last born Omegas leading to criminality
-importation of other races to fill the labour gap but without being given any rights
-brutal suppression of criminals

The author also explores the way in which the regime in power wants to "do the right thing" but ends up prioritising policies and never quite coming to grips with the most serious problems.

A really interesting and thought provoking novel - and Theo is a great invention as the reluctant hero.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 5 July 2003
The premiss of this novel is without parallel to my knowledge; and for all its unfamiliarity it comes across as thoroughly convincing and moving both because of the skill and care taken over the presentation of its setting and because of the way James blends the outworking of its grim thesis with the timeless themes of "faith, hope and love."
"Sci-fi" is a total misdescription: it may be set in an hypothetical future, but this future is - deliberately - so close to the present that literal accuracy or technical prediction is clearly beside the point. Like "1984" and other dystopic visions, its strengths lie in its terrifying picture of a world which can be all too easily extrapolated from the commonplace realities of the world that we accept almost without question.
I've read and much enjoyed several of the author's Dalgliesh detective novels, but I have no hesitation in saying that this is a greater, more imaginative and probably more important work than any of them. It's one of those really rather few books that I can't imagine ever forgetting.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 8 May 2010
There have been a lot of good reviews of this book written already, so I'll keep it short.

The story is set in a world where no children have been born for over 20 years, and it appears that the entire human race is sterile. Theo is an Oxford professor who is forced into the centre of the action when a group of political activists want to use him to help overthrow his cousin, the Warden of England (essentially the dictator ruling Great Britain). A lot of interesting topics are touched upon, including the treatment of the youngest generation to ever walk the Earth and the rise of a dictator and the public's general apathy towards it so long as they can live comortably, which leads to the use of immigrants to do the jobs that nobody wants to do, the use of the Isle of Man as a huge prison and the encouragement of ritual suicide of the elderly.

There are two things to point out:
1) The book doesn't have a lot in common with the film, other than the general premise. It's not really better or worse, but it's different and worth reading even if you think you've seen in all before.
2) This sort of thing has been done elsewhere, in 'Greybeard' by Brian Aldiss. Both books are good, and I wouldn't really recommend one over the other.

A good book, slightly let down by the ending (it does reach a conclusion, more or less, but I didn't like it) and a few minor loose ends.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 6 September 2010
This is an engrossing yet disturbing book. Rather than concentrate on the potential reasons for the sterility of the human race in the near future (there's no reason for things being as they are -- they just are), P.D. James chooses to concentrate on what the prospect of imminent extinction does to our society and her dystopic vision isn't particularly pretty. People are driven by despair and have no real motivating force to their lives leading to the breakdown of society and infrastructure. Although there is a thriller plotline, what makes this book is not the story but the depth in which the world is fleshed out -- it's entirely self-consistent and you can see how every factor derives from humanity's loss of hope.

I'm glad to have read this before seeing the film. They're entirely different animals, sharing the same basic premise and character names, but there the similarity stops. Both are good, but while the movie is firmly in the adventure mould, the book is more for those who are looking to be challenged about human nature.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2011
The Children of Men is a book that paints a disturbing picture - if human beings ceased to be born, what would happen to the world? How would we continue to function, knowing that as a species, we are dying out? There are some sad, touching moments in this book - the mass suicide of the elderly (willing or not), women cherishing dolls as if they were babies, and kittens being as the ageing population try to find a substitute for childbirth and child-rearing.

The main character, Theo, is not instantly likeable, seemingly happy to be self-reliant and distanced from the people around him, teaching history to bored middle-aged women and reminiscing on his earlier years with his cousin Xan, Warden of England. However, as the story progresses, through his willingness to become involved with the underground who are striving to make the dying world a better place, even although on the surface he seems to most unlikely candidate for rebellion, and his particular way of caring for Julian, he develops into an intricate, fascinating character.
The writing is incredibly descriptive, perhaps for some readers overly so, and I had to call up my dictionary more than once.

There are some negatives to this book - I found the middle part to be incredibly slow-moving after a riveting start, however the action does pick up again. I also didn't fully understand the relevance of The Painted Faces, and wanted to know more about what they represented and why they were terrorizing people so randomly.

However, The Children of Men is today also a relevant social commentary, as the average life-span of humans continues to grow, in places the elderly outnumber the young and in first world countries the birth rate steadily falls, how immigration is managed (or mismanaged) by wealthier countries and the trial and punishment of criminals is undertaken. Perhaps, after reading P.D. James' dystopia, there could be some changed opinions
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 1999
I recently reread this book, having read it about three years ago, and was again caught up in the story, which is, I suppose, now better described as alternative history than a science fiction. The book is so well written, that you soon stop thinking "but the whole world didn't becme sterile in 1995", and concentrate on the book. My main criticism of the book is that the main protagonist of the book, is not portrayed in a way that I found especially sympathetic, nor is the "heroine". I didn't feel any especial empathy for either, and I think if I had this book would definitely rated five, rather than four stars. Once one has suspended one's disbelief about the main premise of the book, the rest is eminently believable. Ms. James is obviously a real expert on people's characters and the way they react to others. Although that may seem ike a contradiction to my previous comment on the main characters, they are also very well drawn, I just happen not to like them, as I may dislike an aquaintance, rather than feeling nothing for them. All in all a very well written, gripping book
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2006
This is a superb book. Compelling, intelligent, unpredictable and thought provoking. This isn't the usual PD James crime fiction, and it's not one of the Adam Dalgliesh books. This is PD James writing at her best examining raw human responses. I read this book when it was first published and the issues it raises still live with me.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A nightmarish vision of a world in which man have become infertile, and the last child born 25 years ago, this is in some ways far away from James' crime fiction. The religious undertones well known from her crime, is here, though.
James shows us a world without hope, without motivation and compassion, with state-sanctioned (not to say demanded) eutanasia and with mindless violence. She also describes some of the practical problems of such a world.
Not mind-boggling, but a low-key sci-fi that should be of interest to readers of Orwell, Huxley, Burgess and others.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 2000
For those readers looking for the classic P.D.James crime novel - beware (and probably best move on to other pieces of her oeuvre). This is a pre-Internet age (pre-Amazon) somewhat touchingly old-fashioned futuristic novel, very much in the tradition of Huxley and Orwell, less menacing and less disturbing than the mentioned classics, and maybe closer to a Jules Verne, as her vision of the future (projected in 1992) already today in 2000 seem comically off-target. Her language is powerfull and her ability to blow-up her characters' deficiencies through her merciless verbal magnifying glass, stripping away pretence, self-delusion, pride and decorum, is as strong as in the best of her crime novels. Her main characters, Theo and Julian, are deformed, physically and psychologically. In this thinly disguised religious parable they both find their salvation. All in all a mixed bag - fine writing, but I feel that Ms James has sadly failed in her attempt to break the confinement of being "a mere author of crime fiction".
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