For a change of pace I would like to open with a quote, “If from infancy you treat children as gods are they liable in adulthood to act as devils.” There is a period at the end of that quote from Children of Men by P.D. James, by the way, and in an attempt at a close reading, I believe the lack of a question mark to be important. It turns the question into a statement, the “if” at the beginning, would force the reader to assume a question, but instead the sentence ends with a period which makes an implication of an assumed “then” in the quoted statement. If you have any familiarity with programming, then you should be pretty familiar with this format. If something, then something. It is an absolute. If the first half of the statement is true, and you, of course, had the gall to ask it, then the second part of the statement is going to run, it is going to happen. Now I know, usually I include a spoiler warning in here somewhere before I get too heavy, so if you are one to heed those, you better do so now, read the book, it is good, read the book, or even watch the movie if you are so inclined. Last warning.
We good? I assume we are good. At some point I am just going to stop doing that, but right now I still feel guilty just diving into the meat of a book without warning anybody. That quote up there that we briefly and meticulously reconstructed, actually comes from one of the early pages in the book, and it is easy to overlooked. It says that treating a child like a god will turn he or she into a devil. At this early point in the novel there isn’t a whole lot of evidence to support this belief, but latter on, on the road, during the dance, we see the devils come out to play. This quote, however, is more than just an allusion to that moment, it is an evil omen on the future to come, a future that the book doesn’t even cover. You see, most of the book is building up to the worship of something new, a new god, Julian’s baby. By the end of the novel, this one child brings the entire power structure of the government to its knees, which is even more than the Omega generation ever could accomplish. Going back to that quote, what it really should, or could, be asking is, if this is what happened with the Omega generation, then what evil will be wrought on the earth by the Alpha?
I know, I know, maybe I am being a little to dark. More likely, the novel was building up to the preciousness of young life. More likely, I was supposed to walk away with a warm fuzzy feeling inside knowing that, even through great hardship, if there is at least new life, then there is still hope. Or maybe the fact that P.D. James chose not to continue the story after the novel’s final moments, means that the reader is simply left to wonder. I like being left to wonder. More books should do that, and do it with purpose. It gives new meaning to the phrase, a wonderful ending. It’s that wonder at the end that forces a book to haunt our thoughts for those weeks and months to come. This is the same reason why House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski has never quite left my mind. I would love to do a review for that book, but this soap-box is just not the place, and I really need to get back to the topic at hand, and stop finding reasons to bring up that other book.
The format of The Children of Men is quite interesting. The book starts out as a first person journal from Theo’s perspective, before it shifts into the third person, then it bounces back and forth a bit before settling on the third to wrap everything up. The approach definitely has its merits, by taking two perspectives we get to see what Theo thinks of himself, and we get to see his actions without the filter that he would automatically provide. If that were all there was to it though, I would find the support for the diary chapters to be pretty slim. Sometimes a switch in perspective can appear as a mere scapegoat for writer’s block. But instead, the diary carries more weight. Theo seems to treasure this text that would most likely only ever have meaning to him. When he leaves on what ends up being quite the journey, he takes the dairy with him, even though “there were more useful, more valued, more relevant talismans which he could have slipped into his pocket.” This suggests that the diary is a little bit of everything to him. It is his confession, his shield against harm, and his suicide note, should he need one. Making the diary important to Theo, makes it important to the story, and without those few chapters from the diary, we could never know why it was so important to the story. In this way James brought an artifact of the story into reality. A tricky task, but one that she pulls off nicely.
Next up on the review docket is something from an author that you may have heard of. The name is Arthur C. Clarke, but the book is a bit of an odd one. Imperial Earth may have many of the elements of your typical Clarke novel, if anything from Clarke could ever be characterized as typical, but it also has a little something else. I’ve been wanting to return to one of the greats, not that a lot of the authors thus far haven’t been great mind you, but my problem was finding just the right book to get us off the beaten trail, and I think this one might work. Imperial Earth is the story of a future, a human future. So take a read, and see how much Clarke got right, and how our mildly far flung future fairs.