The Children of Men

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Since her debut as a detective fiction novelist in 1962, P. D. James has striven to break out of the familiar limitations of the genre. In 1980, she wrote INNOCENT BLOOD, her first mainstream novel, but her next three books were mysteries. With THE CHILDREN OF MEN, she once again has written an atypical work. Set in England during 2021, it is about a world in which women cannot conceive, and babies have not been born since 1995. Xan Lippatt, Warden of England, is the dictator of a country afflicted by a pervasive negativism and malaise, with people finding solace with dolls and kittens, which they treat like their own newborn and even baptize, one of the few remaining religious rites.

Oxford historian Theodore (Theo) Faron, whose diary entries comprise much of the book, is its protagonist and moral center. A former student asks him to intercede with his cousin Xan on behalf of a small reformist group; when his approaches fail, and the Warden moves against the renegades, previously passive Theo joins the fugitives and becomes their de facto leader.

The second half of the novel is a compelling narrative of the rebels in flight, motivated primarily by the discovery that Julian, one of their two women members, is pregnant. The child’s father is not her husband Rolf, but Luke, another renegade and a former Anglican priest. Luke is killed by a marauding gang, deceived Rolf deserts, and—soon after Julian’s son is born—midwife Miriam, the...

(The entire section is 423 words.)