Monday, August 27, 2012

Five best books about the end of England

John Sutherland is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and a former long-time faculty member at the California Institute of Technology. He is author of over 20 books, editor of 30 more, and a regular columnist and critic on radio and television.

His books include Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives.

One of Sutherland's five favorite novels about the decline of England, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Children of Men
by P.D. James (1992)

P. D. James's 1992 novel, "Children of Men," was adapted in 2006 into a film, of which the author approved but which alters her subtle analysis of what has gone wrong with England. The plot line recalls Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" (1985), and James's theme recalls Gunter Grass's "Headbirths: Or the Germans Are Dying Out" (1982). The novel depicts an England that has lost its genetic energy—it no longer procreates. Since 1995 (it is 2006 in the novel), no children have been born. What vitality the aging country has is sucked in, vampirically, from other lands through immigration. A dictator rules the country, controlling everyday lives. Then, startlingly, a woman becomes pregnant, and an underground group tries to keep her from the clutches of the government. "Children of Men" was published in 1992, a gloomy year: On Black Wednesday, in September, Britain crashed out of the European Monetary System. But as James implies, bleakly, the country's problems might not be entirely confined to its currency or financial accounts.
Read about another novel on Sutherland's list.

The Children of Men is on John Mullan's list of ten of the most notable New Years in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue