Nobody's Perfect

There isn't a living critic I respect more than James Wood - and I respect him more than most of the dead ones, too. So it's with something approaching horror that I came upon this passage in his review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road:

It is the common weakness of novels such as Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, Doris Lessing's The Memoirs of a Survivor, P.D. James's Children of Men, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, or even Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange and Orwell's 1984, that they are all to some extent science-fiction allegories in which the author extrapolates from the present, using hypothetical developments in the future to comment on crises that he or she sees as already imminent in his or her own time. Thus, in the post-nuclear age of A Canticle for Leibowitz, secularism will triumph and religions will die; in Lessing's and Burgess's worlds, juvenile violence and waywardness have spun out of control (these two novels were written in 1961 and 1974, in the two decades of "The Sixties"); in James's Britain of twenty years hence, males have become infertile and immigrants are rounded up by a totalitarian government and put in cages. There is nothing wrong with any of this, except that some essential illusionistic pressure is taken off the novelist, who can then merely describe the life that we know but with a twist, the old world that most of us recognize but that is suddenly more horrid to live in.

It's a characteristically lucid and insightful bit of analysis, except for the fact that his description of James' novel is inaccurate. The immigrants in the cages belong to Alfonso Cuaron's film adaptation, not to the (far superior) book, in which the government is gently authoritarian rather than totalitarian, with an immigration policy (a minor thread in the narrative, not a major one as in Cuaron's movie) that partakes more of "guest workers" than roundups and cages. I assume (and hope!) that Wood isn't pretending to have read Children of Men, and that it's simply a case of the English-speaking world's finest literary critic confusing a novel with its film adaptation. But even that is mildly depressing.