This was one of those cases where I saw the movie first, and then read the book. And as usual, the book was much better. However, the film was intriguing enough to make me want to read P. D. James for the first time.
You're probably not surprised to hear that I absolutely LOVED this novel. I kept picturing scenes from the movie while reading it, and each time fought against this (inevitable) occurrence, quickly realizing that the people who had adapted it to film changed around all the characters and the ending and...many other important things.
The Children of Men takes place over the course of one year- 2021- and is told partly through the diary entries of the main character, history professor Theodore Faron, and partly from a third-person perspective focalized through Faron. The problem: twenty five years before, the world realized that no more babies were being born. A planet-wide, mysterious sterilization made it so that the human race, rather than going out with a bang, would simply age itself out of existence. This realization, not surprisingly, caused widespread chaos.
In England in 2021, however, there's a modicum of order, thanks to the dictatorial rule of Faron's cousin, the Warden of England. Faron doesn't seem to care about much of anything except living out his lonely existence and mourning for a past that will cease to exist with the death of the last human being. That is, until a woman named Julian and her small band of revolutionaries draw Faron in to their circle, convincing him that the forced "suicides" of the elderly, the brutality of the prison camps, and a host of other problems need to be addressed. They believe Faron can help them accomplish this by speaking to his cousin.
Thus begins the roller-coaster ride that sends Faron fleeing with the members of this group into the countryside, all of them desperate to protect the secret only they know, and one that will change the world. (I'll bet you can guess what the secret is!)
Now, I find this story fascinating in itself, but P. D. James writes it with such grace, style, and a kind of quiet suspense, that I didn't want to put it down. She explores Faron's moods, prejudices, and desires both from his own point of view, and from the third-person narrator's point of view, revealing layers upon layers of what would otherwise seem like a pretty boring, one-dimensional man. James also turns History itself into a character, asking us to think about how artefacts, museums, art, and stories make us human, and what those things will mean after humans are gone. With no one to interpret them, will they cease to mean anything? Will their crumbling mean that humanity truly has vanished?
Guys, I could go on and on about this book, but I'm going to end here by saying, go read it. GO. NOW.