Books Read in 2021 29. I am the Messenger – Markus Zusak

Genre: Australian fiction, young adult, bildungsroman

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2002

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Ed Kennedy is a no hoper. He drives a cab and hangs around with his friends. He has a dog and is in love with Audrey, one of his friends even though she is not interested in him romantically. He has no prospects and no ambitions. Then playing cards start to appear in his mailbox and his life changes irrevocably.

Time on Shelf: About six months. After reading Bridge of Clay last year, I was keen to read more Zusak.

I enjoyed this. It was an easy read – I didn’t realise when I picked it up that it was aimed at the teen market – and the characters were interesting. Ed was an observant and funny narrator and the messages he has to deliver are weird and I was keen to know who was sending them. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the other Zusak I’ve read. It’s sometimes a little weird when you read an earlier work by a writer and this felt like it just wasn’t quite there yet. It had a lot of Zusak’s quirks but they weren’t delivered quite as well as in the later books.

The opening chapter is one of the best I have read. Ed and his friend Marv are face down in a bank that is being robbed, rather incompetently. By the end of the chapter, Ed is a hero and his face is in all the newspapers. Not long after this, he receives the first playing card – the ace of clubs – which has three addresses on it. At each address, he has to do something to help the people who live there. This theme follows with the other playing cards. Some of the jobs are easy – pretending to be an elderly lady’s long lost husband, for example – and some are difficult – dealing with a man who comes home each night to rape his wife, for example. As the novel progresses, the messages Ed has to deliver become more personal and he starts to realise that there is more to him than just being a underage cab driver.

All the way through, I was curious about where the playing cards were coming from. I knew there was potential for it to completely spoil the story if I wasn’t convinced by it or if we didn’t get to find out. As it is, when Ed has delivered all the messages, a man appears who tells him he has arranged everything. He killed Ed’s father, made the bank robbery happen, forced the man to rape his wife and so on. He gives Ed all the notes he has made about it and sure enough all the events are in there. Clearly, this man represents the author who is controlling everything in order to make Ed a better person. I’m a sucker for fiction about fiction so that really appealed to me. (Obviously, you could see this as a religious metaphor if you wanted to but I prefer the idea of an overarching author to that of an overarching God.) It left me feeling happy and satisfied.

Books Read in 2021 – 28. The Fellowship of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy

Narrative Style: Third person, chronological.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1954

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: When Bilbo Baggins decides he is going to leave the Shire, he leaves his heir, Frodo with an immense task. One of the items passed on to Frodo is a ring with immense power. This means that Frodo has to leave his home and take on the hugely important task of destroying the ring.

Time on shelf: These books belong to my husband and have been on our shelves for the entirety of our time living together so 25 years. As he was allowed to help me put together this years reading list, this was at the top of it.

I read The Hobbit a long time ago and really enjoyed it but when I tried to read The Fellowship of the Ring, I just couldn’t get into it. I tried a couple of more times over the years but to no avail so I was expecting this to be a bit of a slog. And in fact, the prologue explaining all the history was hard going. (I remembered that one of the previous times I hadn’t even made it through this part.) However, once the story got started, I started to enjoy it more.

Of course, I have seen the films more than once so I had some idea of the story – as most people do – but I didn’t remember it well and the book is quite different anyway so I wasn’t bored by the unfurling of the story. (The only slight issue being that the casting for some of the roles in the movie was so good that they filled my mind when those characters came up – Frodo and Bilbo mainly but also Saruman and Gandalf as well.) The plot is straightforward. Frodo is the keeper of the ring and he gradually amasses the rest of the group who will make up the Fellowship and they start to make their way towards Mordor. This is not an issue as there are enough ups and downs to keep the reader’s interest. Tolkien’s style is easy to read without being simplistic.

However, there were a couple of things that stopped this from getting five stars. First of all, the insistence of having the story unfurl around Frodo meant that there was a good amount of talk so that the reader could learn what had happened to the others. This slowed the action. (This is remedied in the films by having the action move between Gandalf and Frodo, for example.) There is also a lot of history that Tolkien has to somehow get into the story and again, this slowed things down.

The characters in the novel don’t particularly develop. The Hobbits are Hobbits with their appetites and their singing, the Elves are Elves and so on. They don’t change unless they come into contact with the ring. The focus is on the adventure rather than the characters taking part in it. This is part of the reason that I don’t read a lot of straightforward fantasy or adventure. I much prefer a story of character development. It is also quite a boyish book with few significant women but given that it was written in the fifties, perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on Tolkien if he could only imagine a world where men were free to go off on quests and did the majority of fighting.

Ultimately, this is a story of good and evil and the unlikely heroes these times make. It is easy to sympathise with Frodo as he is clearly not made for this sort of behaviour. The story trots along nicely although I didn’t feel compelled to immediately pick up the next instalment. I will read it though and that is something I did not expect to say.

Books Read in 2021 – 27. I am Legend – Richard Matheson

Genre: Horror, Post-Apocolyptic

Narrative Style: Third person, Chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1954

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Robert Neville is the last living human. The whole planet has succumbed to a bacteria that has caused them to become vampires. By day, Neville hunts for sleeping vampires to kill and fortifies his house. By night, he hides from the vampires on his street when they attack his house, desperate for his blood. How long can he carry on with his fight for survival?

Time on Shelf: This is a reread. I last read it when I was 18 – some thirty years ago. It was loaned to me by a friend that knew I liked horror. My reading matter then tended to be Stephen King, Dean Koontz and James Herbert. When it came up on the Kindle Daily Deal recently, I thought it was worth another look.

I like a book that sets out its stall straightaway. The opening sentence of I Am Legend – ‘On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when the sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back’ – lets you know exactly where you and Robert Neville stand. This is a man in peril. The peril is vampires. The novel starts off running and doesn’t really stop.

It seems that Neville is the last man standing. For some reason – he suggests a prior infection caught from a vampire bat – he is immune to the disease that has turned everyone else into blood sucking vampires and now he has to try to survive. Although they are very different stories, Neville’s plight reminded me a little of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. We only see Neville’s point of view. Flashbacks let us see what became of his wife and daughter and the mistakes he feels he made early in the plague. He was no one to talk to or to help him make decisions about the future. He is paranoid and easy to anger.

Understandably, it is often quite unpleasant inside Neville’s head. He is tortured by the female vampires outside who try and use their bodies to lure him out. At the beginning of the novel, he is driven to distraction by this display. He is unsure exactly what he might be capable of, his lust is so great. As timepasses, his psyche changes and instead of fighting blindly, he starts to think about where the plague came from and whether there might be a cure.

Matheson plays with traditional vampire lore. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire can be seen as a metaphor for the syphilis which was ravaging Europe at the time that Stoker was writing. In I Am Legend, vampirism is the disease, caused by a bacteria spread first by dust storms and mosquitos and then by the vampires themselves. Neville’s ideas about the bacteria lead him to working out why vampires cannot abide sunlight and why they disintegrate when they are staked. He also offers psychological conclusions as to why the cross is effective, making use of other religious symbolism if the vampire had originally been Jewish, for example.

As readers, we are close to Neville. We experience his highs and lows, when he rescues a dog, for example. We have faith in him and hope for his survival. At the end of the novel, Matheson shifts our perspective. It turns out the Neville is literally the last of his kind. The bacteria has mutated. People are more easily able to live with being a vampire. They are developing medicine to help with it. Neville has no future. He will become a representation of the past – a literal legend.

Even though I had read this before, the ending was still hard. It was like having the ground pulled out from under you. Obviously, we hope that Neville will somehow make it into a brave new world. It is both sad and satisfying when Neville realises that he will become a part of their lore, that this has been his role and now it is over.

Books Read in 2021 – 26. Here We Are – Graham Swift (contains spoilers)

Genre: Historical fiction, Literary fiction

Narrative Style: Non-chronological, third person from multiple viewpoints.

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2020

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Ronnie, Evie and Jack are all performers and in the summer of 1959, they are all in Brighton performing on the pier. Ronnie is a magician, Evie is his assistant and also his fiancee. Jack is the compere and an all round entertainer. That is, until, at the end of the season when Ronnie disappears after a spectacular trick, never to be seen again.

Time on Shelf: This was a special offer Kindle purchase, probably at the end of last year so not very long.

I liked the start of this book more than the end. It begins with Jack Robinson standing in the wings, wondering how he was ever going to make himself overcome his ‘panic, vertigo, revulsion’ and actually get on to the stage. It is an interesting opening, capturing Jack’s frame of mind as he is distracted by the thought of his mother who had pushed him onto the stage, his mind moving through memories before Swift returns us to the present, explaining how Jack came to be there, waiting in the wings. I was immediately taken.

It felt like the focus was to be on Jack and his life, with Ronnie and Evie as secondary characters but the narrative suddenly jumps to telling Ronnie’s story, particularly focusing on his time as a child. We learn that his father, a sailor, brings him back a parrot but when he goes back to sea, his mother sells it without regard for Ronnie’s feelings. She tells Ronnie’s father that it flew away. When the war starts Ronnie is evacuated to Oxford. This section was well written and successfully evoked the era. Ronnie is sent away from working class London to what he views as a grand house in Oxford to stay with a family who genuinely love him and look after him. His mother is distant and seemingly unemotional. His father is an intermittent presence but Eric and Penny have been unable to have children of their own and so are desperate for someone to love. Eric passes on to Ronnie his love of magic.

It is when the narrative switches to Evie and the present day that I found my attention starting to wane. Evie is seventy five in the present day, Jack having died the year before. They were married and he had found fame as an actor of some renown and Evie was the manager of his production company. At the heart of this was Ronnie’s disappearance. Evie had originally been engaged to Ronnie but, inevitably, Evie was drawn to Jack who was a bit of a ladies’ man. And it does seem inevitable. There is nothing unusual or exciting about this part of the narrative. Swift captures her grief at Jack’s death well but I didn’t find her narrative as interesting as either of the men.

The action switches now between Evie’s day in the present and action in the past as she remembers the last weeks with Ronnie, the death of his mother and the first time that she sleeps with Jack. It was fairly obvious what would happen when Ronnie went to see his mother. It was predictable especially given that we know about Ronnie’s disappearance from the beginning.

I felt sorry for Ronnie but we don’t get to know how he feels except at one remove. Evie hypothesises that he knew straight away what she had done and as he disappears not long after then it is may be true. As Evie is the only one left alive, she gets to give the definitive version of these final events.

The disappearance itself is quite dramatic. Swift makes us wait to see what the great new trick was that Ronnie had planned. It may be that he had already decided to disappear and it actually had nothing to do with Evie’s guilt for sleeping with Jack. He has been performing a trick where he makes a rainbow appear across the stage and then a white dove would fly out. On the last night, it is a parrot that appears from under the rainbow and then Ronnie himself disappears.

After that, the actual end of the book felt a little anti-climactic. Evie returns from having lunch with Jack’s agent. She is tired and she goes to bed, thinking that she felt the familiar warmth of Jack’s body beside her. There is something in Swift’s prose that suggests she may be about to die as well. Obviously, I suppose, we never discover the whereabouts of Ronnie who like his parrot, might be dead or alive. It wasn’t that that made the ending feel a little flat. It felt a little like Swift had run out of steam and he couldn’t imagine a life for Evie without either of the men. That was disappointing because she had seemed quite a independent character earlier on.

So a good start but a disappointing end. Swift’s prose meant that this was readable throughout but I felt the plot let it down.

Books Read in 2021 – 24. All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Genre: War, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Narrative Style: Non-chronological, third person from a few different viewpoints.

Published: 2014

Rating: 4/5

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Marie-Laure lives in Paris. At a young age, she goes blind and her father, a locksmith, creates elaborate puzzles for her to solve. He creates a model of the Paris streets so she can find her way around. Werner lives in Germany in a mining village. He is an orphan with few prospects other than the mine until he discovers an old radio. Then the war begins.

Time on Shelf: About a year.

There is something magical about this book. It is written in an almost fairy tale style. There is the subplot of a diamond that may have magical properties. The description is vivid and atmospheric. The two main protagonists are children at the start of the novel. Both are abandoned by or have lost their parents. They are alone in a world they do not fully understand. This made it easy to read even though the subject matter was not always easy.

The novel is largely set in World War 2. When the war breaks out, we have already got to know Werner and Marie-Laure and we watch how their lives change. Marie-Laure and her father flee to Saint-Malo from Paris, her father carrying an impressive diamond from the museum with him.

Werner has already seen the beginnings of the Hitler Youth when he is accepted at the National Political Institute of Education – an organisation as interested in Werner’s heritage and physical features as it is his abilities. His sister, Jutta, warns him that he should not go but he doesn’t see the true purpose.

The plot moves between Werner and Marie-Laure’s stories and between different times frames. It becomes clear that their stories will come together towards the end of the war. Doerr drops hints as to how this might happen and it becomes very tense as Werner has to make a decision that directly threatens Marie-Laure.

The chapter’s are short and this adds to the fairy tale style of the story. It moves quickly between the two main characters whilst also taking in other minor characters such as the perfumer, Claude Levitte and Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel who is chasing after the diamond that Marie-Laure’s father was tasked with looking after. The plot is well paced but does not sacrifice character or atmosphere in the protest.

Like The Book Thief, this novel looks at familiar themes in a new way and as it is largely from the points of view of children, it shows the absurdness of war. I found it affecting and compelling. Would definitely recommend.

Books Read in 2021 – 23. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.

Genre: Romance, Classic

Narrative Style: Third person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1874

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Bathsheba Everdene is independent and determined to run the farm she has inherited from her uncle her way. She quickly comes to the attention of three very different suitors – Gabriel Oak, a kind and sensible man, whose circumstances are much reduced since he proposed to her originally, William Boldwood, a gentleman farmer who soon becomes completely obsessed with Bathsheba and a charming but shallow soldier, Sergeant Francis Troy. Each man would have an influence on Bathsheba’s, unsettling her life and destroying her independence.

Time on Shelf: This was a loan from my father in law. Hardy is his favourite author and he suggested that I read it after we watched the 2015 film and I didn’t take him up on it until now. My only other experience of Hardy was reading Tess when I was in sixth form and absolutely hating it. I vowed never to read another Hardy ever again.

I would like to start by saying that I enjoyed this more than I expected to. It isn’t such a doom fest as Tess of the D’urbervilles. Having said that, it is still a classic and a romance to boot, neither of which are genres I love. After I watched the film, I said that now I didn’t need to read it because the plot was the best part and I wouldn’t have to trudge through sludgy paragraphs of description. Well, it wasn’t as bad as that. Hardy’s prose was very readable although I did feel that sometimes the description slowed things down too much.

It is clear from the start that Gabriel Oak is Hardy’s chosen one. He is at one with the rural setting which Hardy felt was under threat. He is good and kind and patient. He is able to put his love for Bathsheba to one side and treat her like a human being. He helps her out, often puts her interests ahead of his own and the reader starts to hope that he will be given a second chance romantically. He has to wait, though, for Bathsheba to go through the horror of her relationship with Troy first.

Both Boldwood and Troy do not think of Bathsheba as a separate person who is capable of having needs and emotions that do not relate to them. They think only of their own longing. To be fair, Bathsheba was foolish to send the valentine to Boldwood and her surprise when he took it seriously was annoying but she couldn’t have envisioned the way his passion would drive him completely mad. Troy was even worse because at least Boldwood was a decent person who would have loved and looked after Bathsheba well. It is apparent from the start that he will be trouble.

Of course, Bathsheba doesn’t know about Troy and Fanny. The reader has that knowledge and worries for Bathsheba. It is obvious that Bathsheba will fall for him and equally obvious that it will not go well. Troy thinks of no one but himself and he all but destroys Bathsheba when they marry. I found it hard to sympathise with Bathsheba – perhaps if I hadn’t seen the film, I wouldn’t have been so against Troy right from the start – I felt she should have been able to see through his superficial charm. Of course, Bathsheba is her own woman and so if free to make bad decisions but even so it irritated me.

Overall, I enjoyed it as much as I ever enjoy a classic or a romance. I felt my usual impatience with the first suitor being the best suitor and sometimes I felt bogged down in the descriptions of rural life and scenery but I wouldn’t rule out reading another Hardy and that really is progress.

Books Read in 2021 – 22 The Killing Habit – Mark Billingham.

Genre: Detective, thriller

Narrative Style: Third person from various viewpoints, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2018

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: When Tom Thorne is given a series of cat killings to investigate, he doesn’t take it too seriously at first. Until he realises that it may be the work of serial killer between kills. Nicola Tanner is investigating what seems like a straight forward shooting. All the evidence points at one man. One man who is isn’t acting quite like she would expect for one who is so clearly guilty.

Time on Shelf: Not very long. I read the first one of this series a long time ago. I enjoyed it and I meant to carry on reading them. This did not happen. This one is much more recent but I bought it when it came up on Kindle daily deals with the intention of deciding if it was worth trying to read the series. After all, these books tend to stand well on their own – I read Rankin’s Rebus books in completely random order, starting somewhere in the middle and that seemed fine.

First of all, Tom Thorne is definitely my kind of detective. He does not always follow the rules. He is often in disagreement with those higher up the pay scale. He ploughs his own furrow. These are all the reasons that I like John Rebus quite so much. Added into that are interesting personal relationships with his girlfriend, Helen, and her sister who seems to hate him and his best mate, pathologist, Phil Hendricks who loves to wind everybody up. It might have helped to know a little more about Helen and what had happened in her past – the sort of details that move from book to book in such series – but I don’t think it was really a hindrance.

Both storylines were satisfying. Based on the location of the cat murders, Tom and his team find several unsolved murders of women. They find that they were all registered at the same dating agency and, in fact, had all been on dates the night before their murders. It unfolds nicely with a couple of satisfying red herrings along the way. I didn’t spot the killer although the clues were there if you were sharp enough and that was also good.

The other storyline – which sees Nicola Tanner taking on an extremely powerful drug ring – was also interesting if less intriguing. Andrew Evans comes out of prison hoping to turn his life around but the drugs he took in prison need paying for and soon he is doing jobs in order to pay of his debts. When he is found guilty of a murder he had no part in, he is taken into protective custody and Tanner tries everything she can to try and get at the gang.

This trots along at a nice pace and the prose is largely good. Occasionally, the dialogue feels a bit forced but for the most part Tom Thorne is convincing. I would certainly read more of this series and maybe I will endeavour to do it in the right order.

Books Read in 2021 – 21 Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction

Narrative Style: First person, Moves between past and present

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1979

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Dana lives in California in 1976. Just after her 26th birthday, she is pulled back to the time of slavery to save the life of Rufus, a white boy who is drowning. Over the next few weeks, she is dragged back in time again and again, always to save his life. It transpires that Rufus is her ancestor and she must keep him alive in order for her ancestral line to be created.

Time on shelf: I was given this for Christmas by a friend who had just read it. It is a book I was aware of but hadn’t got round to purchasing myself.

I really thought I’d enjoy this more. In some ways, I feel I should give it two ratings as it felt almost like reading two books. First of all, I would give 5 out of 5 for the idea of the time travel and the way that Butler put across the way that the trauma of slavery still affects black people in the present day. However, I did not enjoy the execution of the idea and I found it hard to suspend my disbelief.

First the good, then. Dana learns a lot about her ancestry over the course of her visits back to save Rufus’ life. She hadn’t known that she had any white ancestors as her family bible with all the names of her ancestors in it didn’t go back that far. It becomes apparent that Rufus has raped the woman that will become Dana’s ancestor. This is uncomfortable for Dana as her existence is based on the rape of another women and she becomes complicit in arranging for Rufus and Alice to be together. It is also uncomfortable for the reader to realise that this repressed trauma is at the centre of African American experience. It brings to the fore things that America would rather forget, forcing the reader to confront uncomfortable truths about slavery and Black experience.

There is an interesting parallel between Dana’s relationship with her white husband, Kevin in the present day and the relationships between master and slave in the past. In the present day, Dana has chosen her husband, enjoys having sex with him and he has rejected his racist family in order to be with her. When they are both pulled into the past, their dynamic changes. They have to play the role of master and slave as they were not allowed to be married. The difference in their treatment on the plantation brings home the difference in their status compared to the modern day where they view themselves as equals.

In some ways, to complain about this book at all seems like petty nitpicking but, for me, it was nowhere near perfect. I found the way Rufus and the slaves accepted the appearance and disappearance of Dana quite ridiculous. It irritated me all the way through. In truth, I’m not sure what Butler could have done that would have solved this problem but it did spoil my reading somewhat.

I didn’t really take to Dana or Kevin. Not that there is that much character development. The focus here is on history and its effects and maybe that is fair enough given the issues that Butler is trying to address. Still, I found it unfulfilling as a novel or a story. It is much better as an exploration of the ways race, gender and power intersect and the way that history doesn’t stay in the past but still effects our daily lives.

Books Read in 2021 – 20. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Genre: LGBT, Romance, Literary fiction

Narrative Style: First person, non-chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1956

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: David is about to board a train to Paris but he is paralysed by memories of his relationship with Giovanni who, it transpires, is about to be executed. David thinks back over their relationship and his relationship with his girlfriend, Hella who has now returned to the US, trying to understand how he and Giovanni came to have such a tragic story.

Time on shelf: I’ve wanted to read this since I was at university some thirty years ago but I only purchased a copy in the last six months.

Maybe I waited too long to read this book because I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I spent most of the time feeling irritated by David and wishing he would sort himself out which was hardly fair. I felt a lot of sympathy for Giovanni and his tragic end but ultimately I didn’t connect with this story as much as I thought I would.

It is beautifully written. Baldwin’s prose slowly and surefootedly explores David’s history and his psyche. We learn of his early experiences with a fellow teenager called Joe which shake him up so badly that he is unable to acknowledge such feelings within himself when he meets Giovanni some years later. He starts running away from himself at this point and never really catches up.

The description of David’s difficulties in coming to terms with his sexuality are painful to read. It is so difficult to see him refuse to be drawn into loving Giovanni even though it is clear that he feels something for him. At one point Giovanni says ‘You do, sometimes, remind me of the kind of man who is tempted to put himself in prison in order to avoid being hit by a car’ which accurately sums David’s behaviour up. He hides himself away in preparation for the hurt he feels will come.

Hella comes back from Spain and David abandons Giovanni. He makes himself take the socially acceptable route, still running away from what he feels are the unacceptable aspects of his sexuality. He begins to notice what he calls ‘fairy’ mannerisms in Giovanni when they meet up, a manifestation of his uncomfortableness with his past relationship with him. Hella and David move to the south of France as they are now to be married but it starts to feel inevitable that David will realise that he cannot marry her and that it will be too late for Giovanni.

The ending was tragic but it didn’t upset me as much as I thought it might. I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m getting too old to have much patience with the sort of willful stupidity that David displays in his refusal of Giovanni. Nonetheless, it is an important novel putting sexuality, gender, alienation and nationality under the lens and examining them without mercy.

Books Read in 2021 – 19. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopia,

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Published: 1955

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: After some sort of nuclear war, the world is living in fear of genetic mutations. When David discovers he has his own mutation – he can communicate telepathically – he has to try and keep it secret so he won’t be rooted out as an abomination.

Time on shelf: This was a loan. When we were putting this list together, we watched Britain’s Favourite Novel on Channel 5. The Day of the Triffids was on the list but I had already read that and all the other John Wyndham we have (Chocky and The Kraken Wakes) so I asked my in-laws to loan me this one.

This was very enjoyable. Wyndham doesn’t give any details about what happened because David is a child at the beginning and so doesn’t really understand what might have happened. He just knows that his community worship the perfect image as being holy and anything that deviates is sinful. There is some talk about the ‘old people’ but no one really knows much about them.

We see what happens to those who are different when it is discovered that his friend, Sophie, has six toes. David has been keeping this secret for while. He doesn’t really understand why it’s such an issue. It seems like such a small thing but when another boy realises and tells the authorities, her family have to leave immediately for fear she will be killed.

David has his own secret to keep. He is able to communicates telepathically with a small group of other children including his half-cousin, Rosalind, who he later falls in love with. They keep their secret well until one of the group decides to get married. She is unable to keep the secret from her husband but before he can do anything, he is murdered.

David’s sister, Petra grows up to be an incredibly strong telepath, so much so that when she is in trouble, she is able to call the others to her. When this raises suspicions, two of the group are captured and tortured and the rest of them go on the run. Petra becomes able to detect other telepaths in country called Zealand which is very far away. She asks the Zealanders to rescue them.

Zealand is a country where telepathy is the norm. They ‘think together’. There the non-telepathic are shunned and the telepaths see themselves as the future. They come and rescue David and his friends, killing a lot of innocent people in the process. Something they don’t seem too concerned about.

As is the way with The Day of the Triffids, although David is safe at the end, there are issues with the Zealanders. They happily kill many while helping David, Petra and the others escape, they think they are the ultimate in evolution and have no sympathy for those they consider to be lesser. They are no different from David’s parents in some ways, so sure they are the only true form.

This was perhaps the strangest of Wyndham’s books that I have read so far. It was further removed from reality than the others have been in its setting and I didn’t find it as gripping as some of the others but the questions it brought up and the things it made me think about made it a worthwhile read.