February 24, 2012

Children of Men

My wonderfully anti-romantic friend, Erin, picked Children of Men by P.D. James for our last book club read. I was expecting to love it, because I remember adoring the movie. Turns out I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either. It’s a book I’m glad to have read because it spurred a great discussion, because P.D. James knows how to write creepy really creepy, and because sometimes it’s good to read a book that doesn’t sit well with you just to learn from it, as a writer, anyway.

The book is set in a near-future, rigidly governed England, a few decades after the human race learns that it can no longer reproduce. The protagonist is a divorced Oxford professor, who is reluctantly drawn into a group of anti-government dissidents. Most of the ladies in my book club love the book, but it misses me by a hair. I like the premise. I don’t like the main character or most of the other characters for that matter. That’s OK. I don’t have to like a character, but at the very least, I prefer to care about and believe what happens to him. The whole first half of this novel serves to convince me that the protagonist is completely detached from life and has never done more than just go through the motions, even before this humanity-ending, disastrous circumstance took hold of the world. So, I find it hard to buy into him when he begins to attach to people and act boldly in the second half of the book. I’m not convinced he would suddenly care enough do what he does. He feels more like words on a page at this point in the story than an actual person to me.

I do, however, believe in the villain of the story, and I am amazed by the ending. Wow! I never saw it coming even to the last page, the last paragraph. The ending strikes sharp, both physically and emotionally. I was stunned. So, in short, even though I didn’t love the book, I take a lot from it—images and emotional nuances I will carry in my mind. And man, can P. D. James write creepy, well, creepy. Doll babies, kittens, hymns–nothing is safe in her hands.