The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (Book Review)
This is the first book I have read of John Wyndham, and I plan to follow up with The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids, a novel for which he is perhaps most famed.
The Chrysalids is set in a post-apocalyptic future and is seen through the eyes of David Strorm, the son of a highly devoted Christian man named, Joseph Strorm, who is a prominent and devoted Christian leader living in the community village of Waknuk. The old world is said to have mutants and deformed things, much of which was caused by the radioactive fallout in the apocalypse, from crops to people, and so now anything that is a mutation is seen as blasphemy to the lord, and is either destroyed, if not living, or sent to the fringes to be brought up by the other outcast mutants. That doesn’t really affect David in his young life, but after he meets a girl called, Sophie, who is deformed with an extra toe on each foot, he learns of the brutal way in which people with deformities are treated. They are not seen as human beings, but instead an abomination to God and his likeness – an evil put upon the world, sent to corrupt it and revert it back to the way things used to be.
He is asked by Sophie’s parents to keep her deformity to himself, but one day after a suspicious man sees a six-toe footprint left by her in the sand, they realise it isn’t safe for her anymore. Her parents decide they must leave with the girl, and head far away before she is found out. David is heartbroken, and sees here just how cruel his own father is as he questions him about the girl: how he came to know her, and where she might have gone.
From that point on the story revolves more around the telepathy that David finds he has, for he can speak directly to his half-cousin, Rosalind, at anytime, as long as she is awake, and when his understanding and caring Uncle Axel sees this, he warns David of the dangers of what he is doing, especially if anyone finds out, for it is seen as a deformity, just as bad as Sophie’s deformed feet. David learns that there are a few children around Waknuk that also have the ability to send thought shapes through telepathy.
When David’s parents give birth to Petra, they are pleased to see the baby without any deformity or deviation, but once the child is about six, it soon becomes clear to David that she does have the ability to send thought shapes like him, but she has much greater power than anyone else at doing so. David finds this out as she sends out a powerful message, which forces him to run to the river, where he saves her from drowning. Rosalind goes there too, and they realise with such power, comes a greater risk of being caught for their ability, or at the very least, arousing suspicion among those without it.
I will not spoil anymore of what happens here, but in summary, I will say that I found this book highly enjoyable, and I realise that when this was first released, back in 1955, it would have been highly original. In fact, similar plot lines and stories have since emerged, yet this is likely to be the inspiration behind such imitation, and so I think a hat must be taken off to this story with that in mind. I did feel my interest wain a little towards the end however, for although there was much to be excited by, and much motivation for the characters, I do feel that the description of the action got a little stale towards the end, and the characters became so numerous, that the action sometimes became hard to follow. I was very fond of the beginning of the book however, and in the end did enjoy the way things panned out. It might just have been my mood towards the end however, and I do plan to read this again in the future, for there is certainly more than enough undercurrents and themes within this book to warrant a second reading.
I do recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading well-written classic science fiction, and Wyndham is certainly a very good writer at that.