Sunday, 20 March 2011

Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (Book)

When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like a Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.

Waking up one morning without being able to see would be a terrifying prospect for anyone - but for one man, it is expected. He has been in hospital after an attack from a Triffid, the bizarre plants he works with on a daily basis. Then, he realises that he cannot hear anything. Not a thing. This might be normal if he lived in a quiet neighbourhood or it was 3am. But when the clock outside is chiming 9am and you are in a hospital you know stands next to a main road in central London, silence is wrong. Then he removes his bandages to discover he can see, but the rest of the world cannot. It is on this premise that the Day of the Triffids begins, with the personal account of Bill Masen.

From my little knowledge of the numerous film/TV adaptations of this book, it appeared to be very much like any other alien/disaster movie. Big scary plants killing people all across the country and the human battles to survive. In reality, as is often the case, the adaptations have destroyed what is actually a superbly clever and chilling tale of humans on the brink of extinction trying to fight back - their battles to keep some level of decency (it takes Bill a couple of days before he feels OK looting), and their struggles not just against the murdering Triffids, but each other.

Bill must deal with fear, loneliness, disease, hunger and panic while trying to keep alive and away from the now free-to-roam Triffids. Bill meets many people along the way, some much more pleasant than others. And the absolute genius to Wyndham's writing is that he doesn't allow it to read like a good vs. evil, black and white plot. There are no good guys and bad guys (not even the plants!). Instead, it is a battle for survival against each other where people prefer different methods to achieve their goals. When devastation hits as quickly as it does in this book, people must alter their perceptions of what is good and what is bad, of what is normal and what is strange. Most importantly what is right and what is wrong. Some turn to religion, others to weaponry, others to defeat and others to morals. New families/tribes are created by choice and by force.

I won't ruin it by telling you the ending but I will say it holds up much better than I'm sure the film/TV adaptations did and the quality of the book is not just in the end but in each and every chapter. Each part is woven so beautifully that it doesn't read like the conventional beginning-middle-end set-up. The beginning is the end of life as Bill knows it so in fact the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning of whatever the new world is to become.

Out of sheer curiosity, I now want to see the adaptations, just to see the Triffids in action. They are an incredible feat of imagination on Wyndham's part and the descriptions are so matter-of-fact that it makes them even more chilling. I have never had a book make me jump before - until now.

Also, it passed my tube test with flying colours :) I left the tube in a huff because I had to stop reading. One thing I will say is that it is perhaps not ideally suited to bedtime reading - I have had some terrifying and very vivid dreams this week after reading it... don't say I didn't warn you!


LE xx

1 comment:

  1. I have seen two adaptations, and the Triffids were scary both times! It's also slipped into common language usage - whenever I see a large plant with what looks like a head/mouth, the triffids are always brought to mind!

    Best thing about your review is that it was so evocative. I read the book YEARS ago, and your description has left me determined to re-read it - soon. Thanks!