The Children of Men

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Overview

Told with P. D. James’s trademark suspense, insightful characterization, and riveting storytelling, The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future.

The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, ...

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Overview

Told with P. D. James’s trademark suspense, insightful characterization, and riveting storytelling, The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future.

The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.

In the year 2021, the world is a bleak place where all human males have become sterile, and no child can ever be born again. Civilization is giving way to cruelty and despair, and historian Theo Faron has nearly resigned himself to apathy. Then he is asked to join a band of revolutionaries--a move that may hold the key to humanity's survival.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In her 12th book, the British author of the two series featuring Adam Dalgleish and Cordelia Gray ( Devices and Desires and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman , respectively) poses a premise that chills and darkens its setting in the year 2021. Near the end of the 20th century, for reasons beyond the grasp of modern science, human sperm count went to zero. The last birth occurred in 1995, and in the space of a generation humanity has lost its future. In England, under the rule of an increasingly despotic Warden, the infirm are encouraged to commit group suicide, criminals are exiled and abandoned and immigrants are subjected to semi-legalized slavery. Divorced, middle-aged Oxford history professor Theo Faron, an emotionally constrained man of means and intelligence who is the Warden's cousin, plods through an ordered, bleak existence. But a chance involvement with a group of dissidents moves him onto unexpected paths, leading him, in the novel's compelling second half, toward risk, commitment and the joys and anguish of love. In this convincingly detailed world--where kittens are (illegally) christened, sex has lost its allure and the arts have been abandoned--James concretely explores an unthinkable prospect. Readers should persevere through the slow start, for the rewards of this story, including its reminder of the transforming power of hope, are many and lasting. 125,000 first printing; BOMC main selection. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
Perturbed by reports that sperm counts among British males have been steadily dwindling in recent years, the doyenne of the English detective story has interrupted her increasingly leisurely series of mystery novels (Devices and Desires, 1989, etc.) for a futuristic dystopia of sterility. Sometime in 1995—records the divorced, bereaved, ineffectual historian/ diarist Theodore Faron—the worldwide sperm count reached zero with the birth of one Joseph Ricardo, last of the Omega generation. Now, in 2021, graying England is frozen in a lifeless nightmare. Theo's cousin Xan Lyppiatt, Warden of England, rules absolute, attended by his Grenadiers and the State Security Police. Xan has consolidated his power by conscripting all immigrating Sojourners to manual labor at public works, encouraging mass suicides (the Quietus), whose survivors are paid a government bounty, and banishing convicted criminals to the Isle of Man, now converted into a penal colony—actions all approved by a populace so frightened of growing old, unprovisioned and uncared for, and so desperate for the warmth of the young that women routinely take to the streets wheeling prams stuffed with kittens or dolls. Approached by female student Julian on behalf of the Five Fishes, a tiny group outraged by Xan's dehumanizing regimen of fertility testing and enthusiastically assisted suicide, Theo finds himself first fruitlessly reasoning with his cousin, then suddenly pulled in by the miraculous, terrifying news of Julian's pregnancy, which she's determined to keep secret from Xan's ruling council whatever the costs to the Fishes—most of whom are clearly bound for harrowing fates—or the future of the race.Despite an opening as slow as anything in James's recent outings, the departure from her usual formula is brilliantly conceived—the note of sad mortality so powerfully sustained that James's benediction of hope is almost unbearable. (Book-of-the-Month Dual Selection for February)
From the Publisher
“Extraordinary … daring … frightening in its implications.”
The New York Times

“She writes like an angel. Every character is closely drawn. Her atmosphere is unerringly, chillingly convincing. And she manages all this without for a moment slowing down the drive and tension of an exciting mystery.”
The Times (UK)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307275431
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/16/2006
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 102,069
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

P. D. James

P. D. James is the author of nineteen books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Departments of Great Britain’s Home Office. She has served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. In 2000 she celebrated her eightieth birthday and published her autobiography, Time to Be in Earnest. The recipient of many prizes and honors, she was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991. She lives in London and Oxford.

Biography

Few writers have left so indelible an impression on crime fiction as P. D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James, an author whose elegant, bestselling novels have found an appreciative audience among readers and critics alike. James's intricately plotted books are filled with macabre events and shocking twists and turns, yet they are so beautifully written and morally complex that they cannot be dismissed as mere murder mysteries...although, in James's view, there's nothing "mere" about mysteries!

In James's native Britain (home of Wilkie Collins, Graham Greene, and the redoubtable Agatha Christie), the mystery is a time-honored form that has never been considered inferior. James explained her feelings in a 1998 interview with Salon.com: "It isn't easy to make this division and say: That's genre fiction and it's useless, and this is the so-called straight novel and we take it seriously. Novels are either good novels or they're not good novels, and that is the dividing line for me."

Although she always wanted to be a novelist, James came to writing relatively late in life. Her formal schooling ended at 16, when she went to work to help out her cash-strapped parents. In 1941 she married a doctor assigned to the Royal Army Medical Corps. He returned from WWII with a severe mental illness that lasted until his death in 1964, necessitating that James become the family breadwinner. She worked in hospital administration and then in various departments of the British Civil Service until her retirement in 1979. (Her experience navigating the labyrinthine corridors of government bureaucracies has provided a believable backdrop for many of her books.)

James's first novel, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962. An immediate success, it introduced the first of her two longtime series protagonists -- Adam Dalgleish, a police inspector in Scotland Yard and a published poet. Her second recurring character, a young private detective named Cordelia Gray, debuted in 1972's An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. Both Dalgliesh and Cordelia went on to star in a string of international bestsellers.

James has only occasionally departed from her series, most notably for the standalone mystery Innocent Blood (1980) and the dystopian sci-fi classic Children of Men (1992), which was turned into an Oscar-nominated film. In 2000, she published a slender "fragment of autobiography" called A Time to Be Earnest, described by The New York Time Book Review as " deeply moving, and all too short."

Good To Know

  • In television mini-series that have aired in the U.S. on PBS, British actors Roy Marsden and Martin Shaw have portrayed Adam Dalgliesh and Helen Baxendale has starred as Cordelia Gray.

  • James explained the essence of a murder mystery in a 2004 essay for Britain's Guardian: "E. M. Forster has written, 'The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died and the queen died of grief is a plot. The queen died and no one knew why until they discovered it was of grief is a mystery, a form capable of high development.' To that I would add: the queen died and everyone thought it was of grief until they discovered the puncture wound in her throat. That is a murder mystery and, in my view, it too is capable of high development. "

  • In 1983, James was awarded the OBE. In 1991 she was made a Life Peer (Baroness James of Holland Park).

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      1. Also Known As:
        Phyllis Dorothy James White (full name)
      2. Hometown:
        London, England
      1. Date of Birth:
        August 3, 1920
      2. Place of Birth:
        Oxford, England
      1. Education:
        Attended the Cambridge High School for Girls from 1931 to 1937 and later took evening classes in hospital administration

    Read an Excerpt

    BOOK ONEOMEGAJanuary—March 20211Friday 1 January 2021Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty-five years two months and twelve days. If the first reports are to be believed, Joseph Ricardo died as he had lived. The distinction, if one can call it that, of being the last human whose birth was officially recorded, unrelated as it was to any personal virtue or talent, had always been difficult for him to handle. And now he is dead. The news was given to us here in Britain on the nine o’clock programme of the State Radio Service and I heard it fortuitously. I had settled down to begin this diary of the last half of my life when I noticed the time and thought I might as well catch the headlines to the nine o’clock bulletin. Ricardo’s death was the last item mentioned, and then only briefly, a couple of sentences delivered without emphasis in the newscaster’s carefully non-committal voice. But it seemed to me, hearing it, that it was a small additional justification for beginning the diary today; the first day of a new year and my fiftieth birthday. As a child I had always liked that distinction, despite the inconvenience of having it follow Christmas too quickly so that one present – it never seemed notably superior to the one I would in any case have received – had to do for both celebrations.As I begin writing, the three events, the New Year, my fiftieth birthday, Ricardo’s death, hardly justify sullying the first pages of this new loose-leaf notebook. But I shall continue, one small additional defence against personal accidie. If there is nothing to record, I shall record the nothingness and then if, and when, I reach old age – as most of us can expect to, we have become experts at prolonging life – I shall open one of my tins of hoarded matches and light my small personal bonfire of vanities. I have no intention of leaving the diary as a record of one man’s last years. Even in my most egotistical moods I am not as self-deceiving as that. What possible interest can there be in the journal of Theodore Faron, Doctor of Philosophy, Fellow of Merton College in the University of Oxford, historian of the Victorian age, divorced, childless, solitary, whose only claim to notice is that he is cousin to Xan Lyppiatt, the dictator and Warden of England. No additional personal record is, in any case, necessary. All over the world nation states are preparing to store their testimony for the posterity which we can still occasionally convince ourselves may follow us, those creatures from another planet who may land on this green wilderness and ask what kind of sentient life once inhabited it. We are storing our books and manuscripts, the great paintings, the musical scores and instruments, the artefacts. The world’s greatest libraries will in forty years’ time at most be darkened and sealed. The buildings, those that are still standing, will speak for themselves. The soft stone of Oxford is unlikely to survive more than a couple of centuries. Already the University is arguing about whether it is worth refacing the crumbling Sheldonian. But I like to think of those mythical creatures landing in St. Peter’s Square and entering the great Basilica, silent and echoing under the centuries of dust. Will they realize that this was once the greatest of man’s temples to one of his many gods? Will they be curious about his nature, this deity who was worshipped with such pomp and splendour, intrigued by the mystery of his symbol, at once so simple, the two crossed sticks, ubiquitous in nature, yet laden with gold, gloriously jewelled and adorned? Or will their values and their thought processes be so alien to ours that nothing of awe or wonder will be able to touch them? But despite the discovery – in 1997 was it? – of a planet which the astronomers told us could support life, few of us really believe that they will come. They must be there. It is surely unreasonable to credit that only one small star in the immensity of the universe is capable of developing and supporting intelligent life. But we shall not get to them and they will not come to us.Twenty years ago, when the world was already half convinced that our species had lost for ever the power to reproduce, the search to find the last-known human birth became a universal obsession, elevated to a matter of national pride, an international contest as ultimately pointless as it was fierce and acrimonious. To qualify the birth had to be officially notified, the date and precise time recorded. This effectively excluded a high proportion of the human race where the day but not the hour was known, and it was accepted, but not emphasized, that the result could never be conclusive. Almost certainly in some remote jungle, in some primitive hut, the last human being had slipped largely unnoticed into an unregarding world. But after months of checking and re-checking, Joseph Ricardo, of mixed race, born illegitimately in a Buenos Aires hospital at two minutes past three Western time on 19 October 1995, had been officially recognized. Once the result was proclaimed, he was left to exploit his celebrity as best he could while the world, as if suddenly aware of the futility of the exercise, turned its attention elsewhere. And now he is dead and I doubt whether any country will be eager to drag the other candidates from oblivion.We are outraged and demoralized less by the impending end of our species, less even by our inability to prevent it, than by our failure to discover the cause. Western science and Western medicine haven’t prepared us for the magnitude and humiliation of this ultimate failure. There have been many diseases which have been difficult to diagnose or cure and one which almost depopulated two continents before it spent itself. But we have always in the end been able to explain why. We have given names to the viruses and germs which, even today, take possession of us, much to our chagrin since it seems a personal affront that they should still assail us, like old enemies who keep up the skirmish and bring down the occasional victim when their victory is assured. Western science has been our god. In the variety of its power it has preserved, comforted, healed, warmed, fed and entertained us and we have felt free to criticize and occasionally reject it as men have always rejected their gods, but in the knowledge that despite our apostasy, this deity, our creature and our slave, would still provide for us; the anaesthetic for the pain, the spare heart, the new lung, the antibiotic, the moving wheels and the moving pictures. The light will always come on when we press the switch and if it doesn’t we can find out why. Science was never a subject I was at home with. I understood little of it at school and I understand little more now that I’m fifty. Yet it has been my god too, even if its achievements are incomprehensible to me, and I share the universal disillusionment of those whose god has died. I can clearly remember the confident words of one biologist spoken when it had finally become apparent that nowhere in the whole world was there a pregnant woman: “It may take us some time to discover the cause of this apparent universal infertility.” We have had twenty-five years and we no longer even expect to succeed. Like a lecherous stud suddenly stricken with impotence, we are humiliated at the very heart of our faith in ourselves. For all our knowledge, our intelligence, our power, we can no longer do what the animals do without thought. No wonder we both worship and resent them.

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    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 4
    ( 41 )
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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 41 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted June 17, 2004

      Futuristic Novel Examines World Without Children

      <p>Often the appeal of science fiction lies in the genre's ability to extrapolate from the trends of the present and project them into the future. One novel exemplifying this tendency is 'The Children Of Men' by P.D. James. <p>In 'The Children Of Men', the reader finds a world where the population has become inexplicably infertile and must deal with the stresses of a dwindling population and the psychological angst that results when many realize what's the point of life if it will come to a screeching halt in a scant generation. Such a milieu is explored through the eyes of Oxford Historian Theodore Faron who becomes a reluctant intermediary between a group of bumbling, idealistic revolutionaries and the dictatorial Warden of England who happens to be Theodore's cousin. <p>The group starts out with the goal of enacting needed reforms such as better treatment of migrant workers known as Sojourners and restoring order to an out-of-control penal colony on the Isle of Man where the inmates --- some not as criminal as the general population is led to believe --- are left to fend for themselves. However, as the story unfolds a matter of greater urgency comes to the forefront of the plot, namely that a couple within the cell has been able to conceive a child. <p>'The Children Of Men' is not the most riveting example of the dystopian police state novel. It often gets bogged in the details of the personal experiences, emotions, and perceptions of its protagonist Theodore Faron. Yet at times the book provides glimpses into a morally eerie world where the outrages of our own day are allowed to fester to ghastly proportions. <p>For example, the elderly are encouraged to commit ritualized suicide in a ceremony called the 'Quietus', which Theo discovers is not quite so voluntary for those trying to back out at the last minute. Since people no longer have children, they instead lavish their nurturing affections on pets, even having their kittens christened at formalized baptisms. Those born into the last generation are given free reign and little moral instruction --- as such they are self-absorbed to the point of arrogance and even murder. <p>Of particular interest is the frequent mention of religion made throughout the novel. Two of the revolutionaries are motivated by Christian beliefs. However, others hide behind the cloak of aberrant faith as a scam to enrich themselves personally. <p>'Roaring Roger' is a fire-and-brimstone televangelist preaching that the global infertility is God's judgment while playing on guilt and fear to finance his own lavish lifestyle. Rosie McClure is more broadminded in her religious views, but so much so her brain roles right out as she preaches a gospel of nonjudgmental hedonism. The Church of England is characterized as 'no longer with a common doctrine or common liturgy, [and] so fragmented that there was no knowing what some sects might have come to believe.' One just wishes Ms. James had spent as much time in such socio-clerical exposition as she did in embroidering the extraneously tedious background details of Professor Faron's psyche. <p>he political situation described in 'The Children Of Men' serves as a cautionary tale where our own institutions are headed if we are not careful. In most speculative narratives dealing with one form of totalitarianism or the other, the regimes under consideration often lord over the masses with brutality. <p>In 'The Children Of Men', however, the Warden's regime is rather genteel as far as dictatorships go if you happen to be a good little citizen and not to stir up offense. But then again, most of the citizens don't cause much trouble anyway since most have lost interest in political participation and the Warden is careful to maintain illusions of democracy. Of this society very much like our own, one is reminded of Francis Schaeffer's warnings in 'A Christian Manifesto' about comfort and affluence becoming the organizing p

      5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted June 27, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      I Also Recommend:

      A good read

      An inventive view of a disturbing but potential future. A cautionary tale--loss of fertility is directly dealt with but can be a metaphor for being out of balance with nature in other ways too.

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 3, 2008

      A visionary classic!!!

      This book was absolutely amazing! It took a little while to get into, but once I got started reading it i could not put it down. The suspense was priceless, the characters were profound and the plot was pure genius. It was beautifully written and is ranked high on my list of favorite books!

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted September 4, 2003

      Captivating

      A book full of suprises and captivating events. It is quite amazing for the reader to read as the main character, Theo, grows in his now seemingly doomed world. He grows in personality, humanity and love. A very worthwhile read.

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted September 24, 2012

      more from this reviewer

      P.D. James¿ The Children of Men inspired a really exciting movie

      P.D. James’ The Children of Men inspired a really exciting movie, but the novel’s deeper and stronger, more thought-provoking and, in its own way, possibly even more thrilling. While the movie presents a world-wide disaster from the points of view of a few, the novel manages to create both global and intimate views simultaneously. A well-educated protagonist comments on life and influence in his diary, recognizing the needs of the downtrodden even while he blithely seems to ignore them. But his influence has waned and the reader soon wonders if he’s a more honorable man than he cares to believe. Meanwhile other characters come to him for help and soon dispassionate understanding gives way to dangerous actions and, possibly, hope.

      While the opening of the novel seems far less dark and far more comfortably contemporary than that of the movie, the themes of a world without children are none the less haunting and the author’s imagining of how the world might change are scarily plausible, inviting questions of what’s truly important and where the boundaries of good behavior and social acceptance should lie. The reader is quickly drawn into the protagonist’s world, seeing the decay of academia as a mirror of society’s fall, and reading the protagonist's diary in hopes of learning more. His musings pair hope and despair. His actions pair honesty and deception. The consequences pair guilt and promise. And the whole is a beautifully balanced novel, thoroughly enthralling, hauntingly evocative, and intriguingly provocative. Faith, religion, law and order all play their part, but the greatest of these just might prove after all to be love.



      Disclosure: I borrowed this novel from one of my mother’s friends.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted January 27, 2012

      From The Aussie Zombie

      The Children of Men is a book that paints a disturbing picture – if human beings ceased to be born, what would happen to the world? How would we continue to function, knowing that as a species, we are dying out? There are some sad, touching moments in this book – the mass suicide of the elderly (willing or not), women cherishing dolls as if they were babies, and kittens being christened as the ageing population try to find a substitute for childbirth and child-rearing.

      The main character, Theo, is not instantly likeable, seemingly happy to be self-reliant and distanced from the people around him, teaching history to bored middle-aged women and reminiscing on his earlier years with his cousin Xan, Warden of England. However, as the story progresses, through his willingness to become involved with the underground who are striving to make the dying world a better place, even although on the surface he seems to most unlikely candidate for rebellion, and his particular way of caring for Julian, he develops into an intricate, fascinating character.

      The writing is incredibly descriptive, perhaps for some readers overly so, and I had to call up my dictionary more than once.

      There are some negatives to this book – I found the middle part to be incredibly slow-moving after a riveting start, however the action does pick up again. I also didn’t fully understand the relevance of The Painted Faces, and wanted to know more about what they represented and why they were terrorizing people so randomly.

      However, The Children of Men is today also a relevant social commentary, as the average life-span of humans continues to grow, in places the elderly outnumber the young and in first world countries the birth rate steadily falls, how immigration is managed (or mismanaged) by wealthier countries and the trial and punishment of criminals is undertaken. Perhaps, after reading P.D. James’ dystopia, there could be some changed opinions

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 31, 2007

      Tastes Like A Classic

      PD James has crafted something of a masterpiece here. While I have yet to read her mysteries, I was absolutely amazed by 'Children of Men.' I had expected something of a cautionary tale, but what I received instead was a tale on par with such classics of the genre as Fahrenheit 451. And I say that with all honesty, and without fear of reprisal from any of the nay sayers who have spoken ill of this novel. The language is remiscent of Tolkien--I suppose that may act as something of a deterrent to those who did not care for the Lord of The Rings trilogy. All that aside, James creates a reluctant anti-hero as compelling if not more plausible than Bradbury's Montag. She writes of savagery with the same sort of detached amazement you find in Golding's 'Lord of the Flies.' And the ending! I beg to argue that those who hate it do not fully understand it. So ominous! So cyclical! Seriously, for more reasons than I've stated, do yourself a favor and read this book!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 30, 2014

      Blurb neglects to say this is a sci fi end of the world

      Change of genre for the author glad she tried but without humor as always her usual can be depressing well so is her hero reading james is like fruitcake rich solid slabs that even if you like fruit cake can be hard on the digestion overly preserved candied from dried from cooked from fresh

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 6, 2014

      Most writers will try to ease out of a series

      And try a different genre for their own creative health. Sometimes they can work it out within the genre with a new hero and different region or era as in her last book about austin. I always enjoy seeing an author reach out and am usually not too happy with the results partly because its not a favorite genre but it is still a much better book flawed than most with the same end of the world going out not with a bang but a whimper i read this when it first came out so had to go and re read from library mom

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 5, 2008

      Weak.

      PD James is a master of Mystery and this Sci-Fi story is not one of her good moments. The premise is very weak, the main character is not interesting and her writing is frilly without reason.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted April 10, 2007

      Painfully Uninteresting

      The premise of the story sounded great but the actual act of reading it was painful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 27, 2006

      Not worth the effort

      I read this book for my contemporary lit class, hoping that it would live up to its fellow social science fiction novels. However, this book was very difficult to get through. The writing style was irksome and the ending was absolutely terrible. I recommend seeing the movie (with clive owen) when it comes out in November.

      0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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