John Wyndham

The Day of the Triffids

The opening chapter of The Day of the Triffids is a wonderful succinct understatement of what it means to awaken into a world that has dramatically changed. The narrator lies in bed after an eye operation, wondering why everything is so dramatically silent. Waiting patiently for the medical staff to arrive and remove his bandages, but they never arrive. His temporary blindness a gift that saved him from being plunged into a more permanent darkness.

The Triffids are everywhere, deadly plants that move and hunt, their origins unknown but previously cultivated by farmers and enthusiasts. In the wrong place at the wrong time as far as the inhabitants of this decimated England are concerned. But in reality, the threat of the Triffids is little compared to the dangers brought about by the breakdown of society. And this is what the novel is really about, small groups of people trying to survive when the world has fallen into chaos and the most predatory rise to the fore.

It is a dangerous world in which to try and fit in, and Wyndham is more than capable of exploring the moral complexities of the situation. Showing how miniature fiefdoms appear once the rules have broken down and anarchy reigns supreme, that rebuilding the fabric of society can come at a cost, while having neither the form nor substance of the shattered remains of what existed before.

So with the Triffids always at the periphery, the narrator and a group of other survivors fight to find a kind of sanctuary, or a place to build one. It's very much a classic plot, and one that Wyndham carries to a satisfying conclusion. Keeping the ambiguity you have come to expect in a world that is neither black or white, but a graduation of shades between. It's more contemporary than you might expect, considering its age, and the light prose keeps its freshness even if the aged pages of this penguin paperback edition do not.

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