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.

Eclectic Reader Challenge 2016 – The Kraken Wakes – John Wyndham

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Genre: Dystopia, Disaster

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 4/5Unknown

Published: 1953

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: The first sign that anything is amiss is when strange globes start to appear over the sea and then sink under the waves. Nobody thinks anything of it at first but then ships start to disappear and worse, islands start to be attacked. Mike Watson and his wife, Phyllis are caught in the reporting of the events as they quickly escalate. 

Unlike a lot of disaster style fiction, this novel takes you through events as they happen rather than what happens afterwards. At the beginning, Mike and Phyllis Watson are watching icebergs flow past them. Clearly something has gone very wrong. They decide that an account needs to be written of what has brought the world to this sorry state.

There are three separate stages to events. The first is the seemingly harmless phenomenon of strange red balls in the sky that seem to disappear under the waves. Next ships start to disappear and attempts at discovering what may be beneath the waves end with ships being destroyed along with strange creatures starting to invade islands and coasts. When people start to fight back and the creatures are curtailed then the icebergs start to mysteriously melt and the flood waters start to rise.

Mike and Phyllis are journalists and this is apparent in the report that Mike writes. There is a distance between them and events – with them often reporting back about events that they have not actually seen. Consequently the reader is a little distanced from it as well. There was little in the way of emotional response from Mike even when he describes having to get away from it all because he is stressed by events.

Wyndham allows Mike to comment on world affairs and reactions and this is much more successful. The comments about Russian and American reactions and about Government propaganda were apt and clever. The character of Bocker, who in the beginning prophesies doom, goes through many stages in the book – starting off being ostracised until finally he is the only one who has actually got anything right. This shows how the media works to create heroes and villains when it suits them.

I found the ending a bit disappointing. Perhaps because it seemed a bit too neat. It reminded me a little of my disappointment at the end of H G Wells The War of the Worlds. It was almost like a cheat. Or like Wyndham had got fed up with telling the story. Apart from that, this was a very enjoyable and very clever tale of disaster and the way that Governments respond to them.

Books Read in 2014 – 42. Chocky by John Wyndham

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Genre: Dystopia
Narrative Style: First person, chronological
Rating 4/5
Published: 1970
Format: Kindle
Synopsis: When Matthew starts to communicate with an unseen being named Chocky, his parents are understandably worried. After all, Matthew is too old for an imaginary friend. Furthermore, Matthew is starting to ask questions that seem to have come from somewhere beyond his own mind. As time passes, they grow more and more concerned and involve outside help. This turns out to be a big mistake.

There were a couple of reasons for choosing to read this book. I could vaguely remember the TV series and was curious to read the book behind it. Secondly, I had been meaning to read more Wyndham since reading The Day of the Triffids a few years ago. So I had high hopes for the book and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. This is a really good read and the only thing that stopped it getting five stars is that sometimes it seemed a little old fashioned which is inevitable, I suppose, with this sort of fiction.
The story begins with Matthew’s parents noticing little oddities that are out of place for an eleven year old – like having an imaginary friend. It seems harmless enough and although they are curious, they are not unduly worried, as their son seems happy enough in himself.
However, clues begins to appear that suggest that this is no ordinary imaginary being. Matthew starts to ask questions that are almost beyond his understanding. His teachers complain that he is starting to ask about concepts that are too difficult to explain and he sometimes appeared to be arguing with another being. They decide to seek outside help and it is suggested that Matthew may be possessed by an outside force. Understandably, they find this an unsatisfactory answer and seek help elsewhere.
Events do become more sinister – for example, Matthew rescues his sister from drowning without being able to swim. The press start to become interested and Matthew is sent to an important psychologist who equally has no answers for them.
I must admit that I wished I had no knowledge of the events that were to come as I could remember exactly who Chocky was, However, I could not remember the exact storyline and so when Matthew goes missing near the end of the novel, I was as perplexed as his parents. I also could not remember Chocky’s purpose in using Matthew as a reporter on this world. I was impressed by the ecological reasoning used by Chocky in her disgust at our dependency on fossil fuels that will inevitably disappear. This reads now like a warning still unheeded as we are still desperate for a clean, safe solution to this problem. There was a contrast between Chocky’s altruistic attitude and that of the doctors who want to exploit Matthew’s unusual knowledge.
The narrative is written from the point of view of David, Matthew’s father and was convincing in its curiosity about Chocky and its concern for Matthew. The story is written in a straightforward way but that only made the ending seem more devastating because the reader could believe in its reality. Very enjoyable.