Children of Men

P.D. James’ The Children of Men is a beautiful novel that never quite lives, much like the dying society it describes. Many of its adroit phrases freshen well-tread subjects: “Like all religious evangelists, [Rosie] realizes that there is little satisfaction in the contemplation of heaven for oneself if one cannot simultaneously contemplate the horrors of hell for others” or “‘Generosity is a virtue for individuals, not governments. When governments are generous it is with other people’s money, other people’s safety, other people’s future.'” The last one might be ironic, as it comes from Xan, a government power trying to justify his own cruel policies. Heinlein could’ve given the government quip without the irony, but James is a subtler writer than he was. Still, despite nice passages, Children of Men never came together for me: perhaps I was distracted while reading it, or perhaps I heard too clearly the distant engines of its precedents: Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Zamyatin’s We, and a host of others not so memorable. I wanted to like Children of Men more than I did—it’s that good—but couldn’t.

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