“Friday 1 January 2021”

Children of God

P. D. James


In the latter stages of her writing career James, typically a writer of the mystery genre, wrote The Children of God. As such, it reads like a detective novel, much in the realms of Dorothy Sawyer and Agatha Christie. Set in 2021, we quickly attain that no children have been born since 1995. This last generation is known as the Omega. Action driven, it narrates the journey of a small group of characters, the Five Fishes via the diary entries of Theo (Theodore) Faron.

Theo is a 50-year-old academic who teaches Victorian history to the last available students at Oxford—i.e. other 50-year-old scholars. Although cynical and pompous, Theo is an entirely believable archetype of an English professor and entirely endearing.

However, other principal aspects of the novel are less believable. How the Five Fishes meet and share their aspirations to break the law is never explained—surely a carefully guarded secret—and due to their varying backgrounds, I’m not sure that they would. This central doubt prevents the reader from wholly yielding to the narrative, questioning other aspects which would otherwise be willingly accepted.

Due to the problems associated with an ageing population, Britain has become a fascist society ruled by Xan (Alexander) Lyppiatt, the Warden of England. Initially, a saviour offering ‘freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom from boredom’, a decade of power has tainted the warden’s good intent, and he can no longer see outside his spheres at the mounting national issues.

‘After Omega, with the country sunk in apathy, no one wanting to work, services almost at a stop, crime uncontrollable, all hope and ambition lost forever, England had been a ripe plum for his picking … It had hung there, overripe, rotten; and Xan had only to put out his hand.’

One of these concerns is that of felons. All criminals (even extremely minor) deport to the Mann Penal Colony located on the Isle of Mann. Just as in the late 18th- and early 19th-century (when convicts were deported to Australia) people accepted this solution with deliberate ignorance. Choosing to provide food supplies, and patrols to prevent them from leaving, rather than law and order, the island became ruled by the opposite—fear, greed and boredom.

The Five Fishes aim to disrupt this, (spoiler) religiously following the ‘miracle’ (virgin?) birth—a representation of hope, and new beginnings.

Unfortunately, the ending is predictable—a statement on the faults of humanity and how an inclination to disregard the faults of the past, can easily cause history to repeat. Despite the new birth and the associated potential for change, the romanticised artefacts and memories of past eras were Theo’s primary focus.

‘It begins again, with jealousy, with treachery, with violence, with murder, with this ring on my finger.’

N.B. Oxfordshire is a warren of single lane, barely maintained roads. In a post-apocalyptic world, it is entirely believable that after two nights attempted flight, they could only drive 100 miles to Kington before getting a puncture.