Review: The Day of the Triffids; John Wyndham

“When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”  (4.5 stars)

Source- personal copy

Originally published in 1951 by Penguin. This edition published February 2001.

Paperback- 356 pages

This is another one of those books I have been meaning to read forever. Handily, it also falls on the list of the Guardian’s 1000 definitive books… which I have recently decided to tackle (I know, I know…), so that’s two birds with one stone. I love it when that happens. Safe to say that I knew I would adore this book after reading both The Midwich Cuckoos and The Kraken Wakes by Wyndham last year and this one didn’t disappoint me either.

Whoever imagined that the biggest threat to mankind would be carnivorous, walking plants? Following a mysterious meteor shower that leaves the majority of humanity blinded, that’s exactly the predicament facing the planet. Now on an equal footing with humans, in a fractured, lawless society, the mysterious ‘Triffids’ slowly begin their uprising…

The start of this book is incredibly attention grabbing, and for me, reminiscent of the film ’28 Days Later’ whereby a man wakes up in hospital to find the world around him has changed entirely. Somewhat ironically, Bill Masen was in hospital for an eye-operation and so fortuitously missed the meteor shower that has blinded his peers. Struggling to come to terms with the fact that he is one of the few who can see in a society that has altered so irrevocably, he begins a desperate search for others like him. Travelling through London he passes blind survivors on the streets, desperately seeking food and shelter and others who have committed suicide, unable to cope with what has happened to them, which adds stark bleakness to the tone of the book. If this is how society immediately responds to the situation, how are they going to be able to cope as time passes?

I liked Bill as a character; he was independent and knew that in a world where his sight would be perceived as the ultimate asset, he wasn’t able to help everyone. This raises questions of morality from the outset- would you save yourself or risk your own life by helping strangers? I also appreciated Masen’s almost dead-pan style of narration that bordered on comedic on occaision. It was one grounded aspect in a crumbling society. That and his relationship with fellow survivor Josella, was something concrete to grasp onto during the story.

For a book called ‘The Day of the Triffids,’ I was actually quite surprised that in this book the Triffids remained merely secondary characters for a great majority of it. I had anticipated venomous, man-eating plants right from the off, but that wasn’t quite the case. They lurk in the background of the story, seemingly as non-entities for quite a while, their threat played down for the most part and then when humanity has been stricken down, they take this as their opportunity to strike, which they do with gusto. This is part of the brilliance of the novel and in actuality is pretty chilling, particularly as a colleague of Bill had prophesised this happening a great many years earlier, though his opinion was discounted as nonsense at the time. Humanity is distracted by the collapse of society and overshadowed by a loss of laws and morality; they do not even consider that an unexpected enemy will attack from within and when it does, the effects will be not only devastating, but far-reaching.

There were a couple of facets of the book I would have liked to have seen explored in more depth: the meteor shower for example, is never quite fully elaborated on given the absolute catastrophe that it evokes. You also don’t find out a whole lot about the Triffids either, especially given that Bill himself is a supposed ‘triffid expert.’ It is alluded to that they are able to communicate with one another (so creepy!), yet this story-thread is ultimately dropped. Plants that can communicate? No matter how far-fetched the explanation, I would have liked to know more about this. There was also a plague of sickness, of whose origins were never fully developed yet whose impact was again, devastating.

As you can see, some minor plot quibbles aside, I still really loved this novel and all of the themes it encompassed; it really made me think and raised some interesting questions about human morality as a whole- yet all the way through, Wyndham’s conviction that mankind deserves saving never changes. What would I myself do in the event of such a catastrophe? Would I even be able to offer any help or would I be one of those quivering wrecks rocking back and forth in the corner? The Triffids are admittedly scary, but the most disturbing part of this book is not the havoc that they wreak, but the surrounding circumstances of a helpless society brought completely to its knees.

Though it was written decades ago, like Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four, The Day of the Triffids still feels surprisingly ‘current’ and was certainly progressive of its time. I am more of a ‘classic’ sci-fi fan anyway, preferring writers like Wells, Wyndham or Matheson to the more modern science fiction authors of the present day, so this book was right up my street. It goes without saying that I recommend it to anyone who enjoys sci-fi or dystopian fiction.


One response to “Review: The Day of the Triffids; John Wyndham

  1. Pingback: March Reading Analysis: Spring definitely hasn’t sprung… | my good bookshelf·

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