1992, Books

Children of Men (1992) by P.D. James

I have seen Children of Men at least twice and am a pretty big fan. So I have no idea if what I am going to say about this book is fair or whether it just comes from having seen the movie (twice) before reading the book. Additionally, the book came out in a different time and may have felt more believable then. But: to me, this feels like a clear case where a film improves on the book and notably by drastically altering (I’d say improving) the narrative. (Again, I cannot promise my critiques aren’t just from a place of familiarity.)

MASSIVE SPOILERS

The film excises virtually all of “Omega” and the second half of “Alpha,” so a ton of the story, replacing it with a different narrative set in the same universe with some of the same people (sort of). If my memory is correct, it conflates two female characters (Julian and Theo’s ex) but also crucially gives a plot point for one of them to a brand new character. Jasper is a completely different person. And Theo is more likeable (to me, anyway). The Five Fishes don’t really exist. Crucially, it omits the Xan relationship which, for me, is the main thing that elevates the film over the book. (I apologize if I’ve gotten any of this wrong. Though I have seen the film twice, I haven’t seen it in years.)

To me, the heart of my problems with this book come down to Xan. There is too much typical English novel coming of age in their relationship in “Omega.” (At one point Xan mentions Brideshead Revisited to try to cover for this, I suppose.) But the real issue is that it sets up the ridiculous, Western climax of the novel, which is just not remotely believable to me. (Not the specifics of the gunfight itself, but that it happens, and then what appears to happen with Theo. The latter is less unbelievable if these people are merely sycophants but I’m not sure we can believe that given what is said about a couple of them earlier.)

Another huge problem is how much of an ass Theo is. Yes, he’s a very typical British ass, of the kind that some British novelists (and, I assume, British readers, don’t view as an ass0 but he’s a real dick. He’s thoroughly unlikeable. This would be less of a problem if a) Julian didn’t fall for him and b) the novel was clearer that he does become Xan/Rolf. (Though I like ambiguity so maybe I shouldn’t be critical of that.) It’s really the romance that gets me. One of the great things about the film is that it avoids this trope.

Those are my biggest two problems. Otherwise, I mostly like the book and story. I think a number of the things I don’t like would disappear with a different ending (less from a Western) and no Theo-Julian “Oh darling!” crap.

I didn’t like book anywhere as near as much as the movie. I’m not sure how I feel about James as a writer – I’d have to read another book. (I do feel like she writes men well.) And I’m grateful the book exists and created the launch pad for a movie I like a lot. I wish I had enjoyed the book more but I think I’m still glad I read it.

7?/10

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