The Children of Men

by P. D. James

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Format: Hardcover 
ISBN: 0679418733
Publisher: Knopf Alfred A 
Pub. Date: February 1993

Description from


"The year is 2021, human life is dying out. . . . Infertility is world-wide. . . . {In Britain} the apparently benevolent authority of the Council is ruled or guided by the Warden, Xan Lypiatt. . . . The diarist-narrator {of the novel is} Theo Faron, cousin and boyhood friend of the Warden and teacher of history. . . . {Faron} is approached by a tiny group of dissidents who believe that sinister things are happening in the Pen Settlement for offenders on the Isle of Man. They are also disturbed by the voluntary group suicides called the Quietus. . . . Faron agrees to approach the Warden. . . . {In the secondpart of the novel, Julian}, one of the dissidents, is pregnant, and a determination that the baby shan't fall into the Warden's hands leads them to go on the run, accompanied by Faron." (London Rev Books)


In the year 2021, the world is a bleak place where all human males have become sterile, and no child can ever be born again. Civilization is giving way to cruelty and despair, and historian Theo Faron has nearly resigned himself to apathy. Then he is asked to join a band of revolutionaries--a move that may hold the key to humanity's survival.

Description from The Reader's Catalog 

In her twelfth book P.D. James unexpectedly turns from her usual mystery genre to a novel of futuristic dystopia. The year is 2021, the infirm are encouraged to commit group suicide, immigrants are slaves, and, for reasons unknown, the worldwide sperm count has reached zero. How England and the human race survive this state of affairs is the harrowing business at hand. "The departure from her usual formula is brilliantly conceived--the note of sad mortality so powerfully sustained that James's benediction of hope is almost unbearable"--Kirkus Reviews

From the Publisher 

The year is 2021, and the human race is - quite literally - coming to an end. Since 1995 no babies have been born, because in that year all males unexpectedly became infertile. Great Britain is ruled by a dictator, and the population is inexorably growing older. Theodore Faron, Oxford historian and, incidentally, cousin of the all-powerful Warden of England, watches in growing despair as society gradually crumbles around him, giving way to strange faiths and cruelties: prison camps, mass organized euthanasia, roving bands of thugs. Then, suddenly, Faron is drawn into the plans of an unlikely group of revolutionaries. His passivity is shattered, and the action begins. The Children of Men will surprise - and enthrall - P. D. James fans. Written with the same rich blend of keen characterization, narrative drive and suspense as her great detective stories, it engages powerfully with new themes: conflicts of loyalty and duty, the corruption of power, redemption through love. Ingenious, original, irresistibly readable, it confirms once again P. D. James's standing as a major novelist.

From the Critics 

From Brad Hooper - BookList 

Where, oh, where is Adam Dalgliesh? He's nowhere to be found in P. D. James' latest novel, that's for certain. In a departure more startling than when Doris Lessing headed off in the same direction a decade or so ago, James submits for her fans' approval a futuristic novel that extrapolates today's ecological-social problems three decades into the future to imagine what disasters have befallen the human race. "Early 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-five years, two months, and twelve days," begins this joyless novel based on the premise that in this future world no human conceptions can occur; no one has given birth in 20 years. Told in journal format by one Theodore Faron, historian and cousin to the dictatorial ruler of Britain, the reader is witness to an environment of despair-based oppression; not surprisingly, a subterranean dissident movement is stirring. Theodore straddles these two sides of life and eventually becomes involved in an illegal situation centering on a clandestine "actual" birth. Is it fair to decry a popular writer like James for not sticking to her trade? Does her sf-style novel succeed? All of James' ability to draw characters in full dimension and to keep a plot well paced is in evidence. Still, the world and issues she's created here seem redundant--not unlike what's been done before by many other writers. Won't you come home, Adam Dalgliesh? You're like "nobody" else!

From Peter Reading - The Times Literary Supplement 

The first child for a quarter of a century is born in a tumbledown shed, and so it has all started again. This is the renaissance, Year Alpha. . . . 'It was with a thumb wet with his own tears and stained with her blood that {Theo} made on the child's forehead the sign of the cross.' These portentous last words seem to indicate some sort of Christian moral, though it is unclear what the moral is meant to be. Indeed, if this departure from James's usual genre is intended as a fable, its meaning is not readily communicated. However, her skill as a convincing depicter of scene and character manages to persuade the reader that this variation on the theme of terminality is almost believable, and her ability to create a well-paced plot ensures that her audience will find {this novel} as exciting as her crime stories.

From Julian Symons - London Review of Books 

P.D. James has two themes here. One is about the baneful effect of a hedonistic eugenic tyranny where those who don't go voluntarily to their Quietus are delivered to it by force, and the other, developed in the book's second half, about human redemption through religious faith. . . . The book's two halves are very different. The first offers a subtle, finely argued case against an easy hedonism whose ultimate resort is force, and a system of eugenics leading eventually to the extermination of the unfittest. . . . What may be called the up side of the story, the birth of a child and the conversion of indifferent Theo Faron to religious belief . . . seemed to me much less interesting.

From Walter Wangerin - The New York Times Book Review 

Plot, under Miss James's hand, is never merely external action. Always she explores character, the complexities of motive and thought and emotion; andalways she wonders about the nature of humankind in general--this baffling admixture of good and evil, faith and failure, love and a murderous self-sufficiency. In her other novels, the author's attention is upon the plot and these concerns appear only indirectly. But here Miss James makes these contemplations the very business of her book, and her view is Olympian. From the premise of this novel, death takes on tremendous dimension. And as Faron grows to love Julian, love is purged of personal return. . . . The birth of a single childbecomes a thing of ineffable glory. If there is a baby, there is a future, there is redemption. From this, Miss James's book draws--but not heavily--a mythic breath.

From Molly Finn - Commonweal 

Among the areas {P.D. James} addresses in this futuristic novel are a sterility of body and spirit leading to the physical end of mankind and the destruction of society, questions of individual and governmental power, religious belief, love, redemption. . . . Because James is known as a writer of murder mysteries, readers might expect that the plot, the suspense of the unfolding story, the excitement of the chase would provide the main interest of this book.Unfortunately, the unfolding story, buried in a mountain of detail, holds little suspense, the chase little excitement. The framework of the book, all tooplain to see, is never richly clothed; the numerous characters wander over a skillfully depicted landscape like so many sticks. It is too difficult to believe a redeemer will rise from the bed in the woodshed. The idea was a good one, but like so many of P.D. James's mysteries, this novel makes you wonder what makes her the queen {of crime}.

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