Title: The Day of the Triffids
Author: John Wyndham
Published: 1999, Penguin (Originally published 1951)
This is only the second John Wyndham book I’ve ever read, the first being The Seeds of Time, which I read earlier this year. I enjoyed The Day of the Triffids a lot more than The Seeds of Time, and I was surprised at how subtly creepy I found certain sections of the text. One section, near the start of the novel, seemingly affected me so much that I had nightmares for three nights in a row about the same section (the first time Bill meets Josella).
Still, as much as I enjoyed the premise, the pace of the story and the imagery of Triffids, there were some sections which left me a bit cold; most notably, the presentation of the vast majority (if not all) of the female characters here. I’ve spoken to a few people about this since finishing the book, and I’m mostly met with a similar response – “It’s of its time”, or “It was published in the ‘fifties.” and so on. Whilst this is true, and it’s certainly something I’m aware of in most of the fiction I read, it’s just so tiresome to read yet another sci-fi novel where women are once again presented as a kind of “other”. Large sections of the story are devoted to the women’s place in this new, post-Triffid land – how they should behave, how they should work, how they should take partners, etc. One section in particular – Bill and Josella’s discussion of polygamy and re-population – just plays out as a flat, near-pathetic fantasy scrawl wherein poor old Bill Masen has to agree to “take on” three women (one sighted, Josella, and two blind) to improve chances of re-population. Even the description of Josella’s published work, the laughably titled “Sex is my Adventure” just feels dated and ultimately unnecessary. When Josella tells Bill about her early life, Bill comments that she “prattled on”. I just can’t say that it felt like a story about humanity very much – it just felt to me that this was a story about men and men’s struggle in a destroyed world, with women just another thing to think about and deal with when required.
I suppose behind the quasi-scientific details and post-disaster chaos, this is essentially a love story, but in order to get to this (which, incidentally, plays out like any kind of man-searching-for-woman love story you might have read, at least to me), we have to wade through semi-philosophical dialogues and diatribes regarding self-sufficiency, faith and religion, community and self-preservation, and, just at the end, bureaucracy and militarism.
This review reads like I really didn’t enjoy the book at all, but that’s not the case. I think perhaps I’m focusing so much on the problems I had with the novel because I did enjoy reading it it so much. It was an easy read, but it wasn’t a brainless read. There were some genuinely frightening sections and I did find myself thinking about it for a while after I’d closed the book. The Triffids themselves straddled the line between scary and laughable, but it’s the actions of the remaining desperate human that give the book its power. Maybe it’s just that I find it a bit of a shame that such an important and enjoyable book has these flaws.