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St Chad's Readers' Group

We have been meeting for about three years, approximately once a month, and read a variety of books, from the excellent (Ian McEwan's 'Atonement'), to the truly dreadful ('Fear of Flying'). Our book for December was 'The Children of Men' by P.D. James, and one of our members reviews it here.

For more details of the Readers' Group, contact Sharon Johnson (2749176)


P.D. James The Children of Men (Faber, £6.99 pbk)

In a departure from the crime fiction upon which she has built her considerable reputation, P.D. James here presents us with a stark vision of an apocalyptic future Earth. Humanity has completely lost the ability to reproduce; no children have been born for two decades; and whilst scientists initially believed they would be able to solve the problem, that confidence has proved entirely misplaced.

The novel centres around the character of Theo Faren, a recently divorced Oxford don, and is told partly through his diary entries. We learn that he is cousin to the ruler of England, Xan Lyppiatt, who has risen to power through his trinity of promises - protection, comfort, and pleasure - and an ordered strategy for governance as the ageing population dwindles to nothing. This superficially benign dictatorship masks a brutal reality, as Theo discovers when he meets a small group of people determined to struggle against the evils that are being ignored by a depressed and apathetic people.

The greatest strength of this book lies in the psychological acuity with which James envisages this bleak world. Middle-aged women push prams containing china dolls, simpering over their lifeless 'babies' in a grotesque mimicry of genuine motherhood. Vicars baptise kittens whose furry bodies are dressed in christening gowns which in bygone years would have clothed human infants. When James describes these scenes and others, more frightening, she does so with such unerring accuracy that you believe it all horribly possible.

Likewise, the character of Theo, the remote academic, is perfectly and brilliantly built, though the changes in his persona as the story develops are perhaps less convincing, and, in its later stages, the plot could be accused of lacking credibility.

All in all very well worth reading, although definitely not a feel-good book.

Kate Cooper