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The Chrysalids – John Wyndham

26 Apr

JWCWhen David is old enough to realise that, though not visibly abnormal, mentally he – and others –  are different, more than human, he is terrified of discovery.  He lives in a land threatened by the twisted mutants of the cursed Fringes, a land where genetic conformity is the Will of God, and any deviation, from a minor quirk to a body warping-distortion, marks the sufferer as non-human, to be cruelly abused and ruthlessly cast out.

If their ability to communicate using thought alone is found out, David and his friends would be in terrible danger.  They would have to run – but where to?  And who is this new, distant thought-voice they can hear?  Could it be from the impossible glittering cities that David has dreamt of, places from the past, from before God sent his terrible earth-scorching destruction to punish the wicked?  And might it hold the key to their freedom..?

Just in case you get the wrong idea this book is not of the romantic comedy genre but is another fine offering from John Wyndham, author of such esteemed works as The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of The Triffids amongst others.

Wyndham writes in a style he calls ‘logical fantasy’, in the case of The Chrysalids, a major catastrophe has happened and we join a community that seems to be blindly following the doomed path to repeating the previous mistakes of our sometimes less than illustrious history.

Set around a post apocalyptic society, hundreds of years after ‘The Tribulation’ – the cause of which will be obvious to you intelligent readers – a pre-industrial society is trying to scrape out a living from the Earth and bring themselves back to the imagined utopia before the event happened.   This society like so many is one fuelled by fears and propaganda where a terrible revenge is due to anybody who doesn’t conform.

Anybody different is considered evil and this is played out with some chilling nods to the pure race and all the hateful indoctrination that comes with it, as well as the religious mania that people in power use to cement their ideas over society.  It makes for an interesting compare and contrast exercise with today’s society fraught as it is with aversion to change, fear of the other and the religious intolerance coming from all sides and all faiths.

This backdrop of paranoia creates a story charged with real and terrible danger.  As everybody is clinging to the last vestiges of a dead world, David and his friends must come to terms with who they are, which brings new thoughts and feelings, whilst working out the mysteries that surround their group.  What precisely have they have begun to sense and can they find a peace for themselves?

the author does a superb job of keeping the tension of the story, ratcheting up the prejudice and hostility whilst also showing the fundamental misunderstanding of so many characters actual beliefs – which seem hypocritical on closer examination – and regressive to society as a whole.  It’s a fast paced book and feels very back to the earthy roots of humanity and is a welcome tonic to the usual survivors stories.

This tale of adaptation and change, the evolution of society and the danger of repeating the same mistakes as before is very much topical, what with fundamentalist words that are now in use on the news every day and the world seemingly going more than just a bit mental.  The thoughts that Wyndham conveys are by no means subtle and it is a little dated in its writing but I like that it seems something that would be fitting for this new society relearning what it had previously.  The whole feel of the book is satisfyingly grim but with hope.

This is classic sci-fi at its best, with a great dystopian world which made me an avid reader whilst sincerely caring for these characters and their plight. This is now hands down my favourite John Wyndham novel and a cracking read for anybody new to his work.  The key elements for me are its horrific nature which is always darkly brooding in the background, coupled with the nice little touch of the geography of the new world and the ending which I thought was fascinating and left me speculating on the morals of all involved.

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49 Comments

Posted by on 26/04/2015 in Sci-Fi

 

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49 responses to “The Chrysalids – John Wyndham

  1. shadowoperator

    26/04/2015 at 19:09

    Who knew? (You, obviously!). I had heard of “The Day of the Triffids,” and the name John Wyndham, but never this one. Dystopias are so very popular these days, it’s almost as if someone wants to reassure us that yes, it actually could be worse than it is! P.S. Just saw something on the Internet, couldn’t seem to send the link, called “The Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World,” which featured a picture of a Los Angeles bookstore with “re-purposed” books in the shape of a tunnel. Now, I’m all for highlighting books, but “re-purposing” them and not getting to read them seems like a dystopia all on its own. I do have to admit that the photo was astonishingly beautiful, however. I hope you can find it somehow by the title, and I hope I have that right. It made me think of you, and your desire to own a bookstore. (Apologies for going off-topic, too!)

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    • Ste J

      26/04/2015 at 19:25

      I found Day of the Triffids to be somewhat underwhelming and enjoyed The Kraken Wakes as it was more epic on a world wide scale but a far as dystopias go there is a certain wish to go back to a simpler time which we would all actually hate but it is nice to have a flight of fancy on the odd time, or maybe we are just all a little more macabre these days.

      I found the tunnel and I have to say what a waste of books, I wonder if they chose ones with little artistic merit or just picked them for the look, books look beautiful as books and that is enough in my eyes. I would love to have a book store, even if it didn’t look half as sexy as some of the ones out there, it is the drama of the books that helps and the atmosphere and most importantly the fake story about the literary ghost who haunts the place that I would concoct.

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  2. shadowoperator

    26/04/2015 at 20:18

    Think of it this way: failing all else, you could make arrangements to come back AS “the literary ghost who haunts the place,” complete with your own Dickensian plot for approaching mortals who don’t tread the bookstore rows and columns with respect! Just yankin’ your chain a little (ha!ha!).

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    • Ste J

      26/04/2015 at 20:27

      I like that idea, it would be a great legacy and I can push all the Dan Brown books off the shelves!

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  3. gargoylebruce

    26/04/2015 at 22:04

    John Wyndham terrifies me. Which is why he is a good writer, I suppose.

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    • Ste J

      27/04/2015 at 08:09

      I think this is the most terrifying book of his I have read to date, the ideas mirror what is going on in the world so well, I suppose I should say are still going on in the world. I shall add another couple of his to the soon to be read list.

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  4. clarepooley33

    27/04/2015 at 00:08

    Good review! I have never got round to reading any of Wyndhams books but my husband has all of them (he loves sci-fi novels). He says that despite the dated style, the books are really gripping because the settings are so ordinary and the characterisations so good.
    Re. your re-purposed books – have you seen the book teaching people how to cut up books? It is a new craft; you snip away at pages of a book and then – voila! – you have a little pop-up woodland scene! So much more fun than trying to read all those boring words.

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    • Ste J

      27/04/2015 at 08:21

      That datedness gives them a B-movie feel which is always fun but they are really well crafted as well. Their shortness is a good thing if you fancy a dip in to one and I recommend that you do at some point.

      Books about mutilating books, that can’t be good, I do like pop up book but the thought of destroying them makes me sad and nauseous. I shuddered at your last sentence and made a noise like a sad dolphin.

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      • clarepooley33

        27/04/2015 at 14:25

        I think I would like to hear you make a noise like a sad dolphin! The whole idea of mutilating books – any books no matter how boring/out-dated – make me feel ill too. I never marked my set books at college, even with pencil!

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        • Ste J

          27/04/2015 at 20:40

          Me neither, some people like to do that bu I just can;t do it, if there is something I like in a book I copy it out and would most likely stick it on the blog, to share is always better.

          Liked by 1 person

           
      • clarepooley33

        27/04/2015 at 14:29

        I hope you realised that I was not serious about the ‘fun’ and ‘boring words’ bit!

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  5. nancyrae4

    27/04/2015 at 00:47

    Thanks, Ste J, for another great review. The Chrysalids sounds like a fascinating read, but since my own situation is fairly dystopian at the moment I’ll probably save it for later. I am still alive over here, by the way, and reading your blog.

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    • Ste J

      27/04/2015 at 08:07

      Glad to see you are around, I hope things get better for you soon my friend. Perhaps it’s time for a trip to Colorado to chill out…

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  6. renxkyoko

    27/04/2015 at 08:28

    This book is right up my alley.

    Do you want to own a bookstore ? That’s great. Do you know one of my Mom’s business in the Philippiness was a book rental business? Books are expensive in the Philippines, and since my mother had an extensive collection, she thought she could earn something from her collection ( Mom was always thinking of business here and there, ha ha ) She rented a small space at her friend’s convenience store , actually just a wall.

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    • Ste J

      27/04/2015 at 20:42

      I don’t think I could bear to part with my books in caswe of damage, I do get very paranoid about such things and hate creased corners and broken spines with a passion. We did try to get a reading library going on at the local pub but our town is not one for readers sadly.

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      • renxkyoko

        27/04/2015 at 21:04

        They weren’t hard bound. They were all pocketbooks. There were membership fees, then maybe 10 pesos a book for one week. Luckily, there wasn’t a single unreturned book, until she closed shop. ( 4 years )

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        • Ste J

          28/04/2015 at 07:44

          That’s impressive, it sounds like one of the few clubs I would have liked to be a part of, which would have filled the coffers quickly no doubt!

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  7. Alastair Savage

    27/04/2015 at 09:50

    The Chrysalids is a great book, and has much more engaging characters than Wyndham’s other work (the heroes are often cyphers who dash around servicing the plot). It’s also about family and how people’s faith clashes with their relationships, which is as relevant today as it was back in 1955 when this book was written.

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    • Ste J

      27/04/2015 at 20:45

      His other characters do feel flat in comparison to these but then I suppose something like The Kraken Wakes or even The Day of the Triffids is always going to be more about the situation. It’s a nice change to see something familiar coming from the hell he puts his characters through. Now Chocky had quite a decent invisible character (or was it?) if I remember rightly.

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      • Alastair Savage

        28/04/2015 at 07:31

        Was Chocky the one who ate aluminium foil? I haven’t read that one for years!

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        • Ste J

          28/04/2015 at 07:41

          Chocky is the one about the boy who has an invisible friend, which is father suspects is something far removed from the imagined.

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          • Lyn

            29/04/2015 at 00:52

            Chocky – loved that book. ITV also made it into a TV series, which was quite good. I remember seeing it all those centuries ago 🙂

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            • Ste J

              29/04/2015 at 07:51

              I haven’t seen the ITV series, I must check it out, I hope it’s really cheesy and dated, I love those shows.

              Liked by 1 person

               
              • Lyn

                01/05/2015 at 00:06

                It probably is now, but back then it was pretty darn good. It’s funny though, the only one I can remember is the little boy who played Matthew.

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                • Ste J

                  02/05/2015 at 19:37

                  Cheesy or not, it’s going up my list of things to watch which gets less time than books but something I will try and rectify.

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  8. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    27/04/2015 at 10:25

    Dystopian novels is quite a popular genre now and, ‘logical fantasy’ sounds really interesting. I’m yet to read any of Wyndham’s work. But, your review has piqued my interest. 🙂 …

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    • Ste J

      27/04/2015 at 20:48

      Quite a few of his works have been turned into films and inspired set pieces from films but the books are just so much more fun, as well as this one The Midwich Cuckoos is great, just be careful of the blurb as it sometimes gives to much of the good plot away.

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  9. Jilanne Hoffmann

    27/04/2015 at 21:12

    Is there such a thing as illogical fantasy? Would that just mean it’s poorly written?

    I’ve never gone in for sci-fi, but this could be a good one to suggest my husband. I’ll tell him to give it a gander. Thanks!

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    • Ste J

      28/04/2015 at 07:39

      I suppose no fantasy or sci-fi can be illogical if there are rules to the world..in Wyndham’s case he took an event and then tried to write as accurately as possible the human response to it. This book is probably his most interesting as it takes on a more personal feel, rather than strange objects crashing into water before bothering coastal folk or giant angry plants taking over.

      The book is short enough that if you wanted a read that wouldn’t take you too long, may just get you into the genre. A book is made for two, as I never say when people ask to borrow one of mine.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. Jeff

    27/04/2015 at 21:48

    It’s amazing to think that the post-2008 economic collapse is our (latest) apocalyptic moment. Hardly compares with a world war. The fact that so many Africans risk their lives to cross the Med to get to the European wasteland should make our luck apparent.
    I wondered where you might put the book along the ‘1984’ dogma vs ‘Brave New World’ ambiguity scale? Sounds nearer Orwell to me.

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    • Ste J

      28/04/2015 at 07:58

      You would thinkthe economic collapse would teach us a thing or two about saving and being careful but alas with governments in the lead, it’s business as usual until the next recession. There is a book called The Camp of the Saints I have wanted to read for ages about a mass third world invasion of the first, which seems even more relevant in these days.

      I haven’t read Brave New World, it’s been on my shelf for over a decade and I keep saving it, on reflection I’m not sure why I am doing that but I like to leave myself a treat. There was plenty in the book that reflected 1984, but for me I enjoyed the religion/politics friction most of all in Chrysalids.

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  11. Lyn

    29/04/2015 at 01:02

    I have a vague feeling I’ve read this. It would be years and years ago – maybe in school. I might have to see if they have a copy in the secondhand bookstore in town. If John Wyndham had used his full name on his books, it would have filled the cover.
    John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris – what a mouthful! 😀

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    • Ste J

      29/04/2015 at 07:55

      I bet John was well disappointed that his initials did not make up an amusing acronym or at least an anagram of note. he made up for it with some good books all of which I think will be worth a punt just in case you need an excuse to load up on books whilst at the book shop.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Lyn

        01/05/2015 at 00:06

        Who needs an excuse 😀

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  12. Letizia

    29/04/2015 at 19:35

    I’ve never heard of this author but sometimes love dystopian novels (for some reason, I seem to really engage with them or not at all, very hit or miss with me). This one sounds quite good and the fact that you liked it sits well with me so I will give it a go. Plus, I like the cover.

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    • Ste J

      02/05/2015 at 19:45

      I find the cover disconcerting but I’m not sure why, I think it’s a sideways head, that always freaks me out. There is plenty in this to keep you interested and if you don’t like it I will personally choose you another book to make up for it. Dystopian books and films are great, for some reason we humans love a little grimness in our fantasy.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  13. Sarah

    29/04/2015 at 20:36

    Ooo, I have a copy of this! Your review has made me want to dig it out and give it a look. I couldn’t bring myself to read ‘Day of the Triffids’ because I feared it might not live up to the intense yet delicious horror of shuffling clicking rubber plants on a young impressionable mind, courtesy of the BBC’s 1970s television drama department.

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    • Ste J

      02/05/2015 at 19:42

      When I read Day of the Triffids, I was disappointed, there is something so wonderfully filmable that makes me prefer the adaptations. British TV is cheap and cheerful but we can do scary sci fi on a budget and that makes me proud!

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  14. LuAnn

    30/04/2015 at 20:59

    This may be the next sic-fi book I read. It sounds positively intriguing.

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    • Ste J

      02/05/2015 at 19:39

      It is, I polished it off in a couple of sittings. I think my mind was thinking of so many ways the story could go I terrified myself. Once again I add another book to your precariously big to read pile, mwahahaha!

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • LuAnn

        03/05/2015 at 03:48

        And I thank you for it my friend! 🙂

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  15. RoSy

    04/05/2015 at 18:21

    Oooooh – I would so read this one.
    Sounds scarily true to what is actually happening here around the world though. EEK!

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    • Ste J

      04/05/2015 at 19:18

      It is an interesting amalgam of old time fear of the anything different and the modern sense of having our ‘us-ness’ encroached upon and change happening. It’s a wonderfully tense story and very familiar in many ways.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  16. Aquileana

    08/05/2015 at 13:09

    It sounds like a great book… Dystopian genre has always mesmerized me … There are so many layers… Plus I love the title of the book, which by the way makes me think in inner transformations which project outer new shapes.
    Great review as per usual… Best wishes and happy weekend dear Ste!. Aquileana 😀

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    • Ste J

      08/05/2015 at 15:04

      Well spotted, the title is a big clue to what goes on and is a nice nod to nature, evolution if you will and the fact that it is unavoidable and natural. I think everybody loves Dystopian stories as it makes me feel that life could be worse lol. I hope your weekend is equally marvellous my good friend and that free books come your way!

      Liked by 1 person

       

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