Book Review: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
Bill wakes up in the hospital the day after a worldwide comet show with his eyes still bandaged from a triffid accident. His regular nurse doesn’t show up and all is quieter than it should be except for some distraught murmurings. Shortly he finds out that everyone who saw the comet show has lost their sight, leaving a random bunch of people who just so happened to miss it the only sighted humans left in the world. A hybrid plant created years ago for its highly useful oil, the triffid, is able to walk and eats meat. Swarms of them are now wreaking full havoc on the people struggling to save the human race.
This book reads like the novelization of a 1950s horror film. Man-eating plants! Dangerous satellite weapons of mass destruction! Humanity being reduced to the countryside! Classic morals versus new morals! This is not a bad thing, and Wyndham seems to be conscious of the innate ridiculousness of his tale, as it possess a certain self-aware wittiness not often present in apocalyptic tales.
Bill is a well-drawn character who is enjoyable as a hero precisely because he is an everyman who is simultaneously not devoid of personality. He is not the strongest or the smartest survivor, but he is just strong and smart enough to survive. Similarly, his love interest, Josella, impressively adapts and changes over time, and their love story is actually quite believable, unlike those in many apocalyptic tales. In fact, all of the characters are swiftly developed in such a way that they are easy to recognize and tell apart. This is important in a tale with so much going on.
On the other hand, the action is stuttering. It never successfully builds to an intense, breaking point. Multiple opportunities present themselves, but Wyndham always pulls the story back just before a true climax. After this has been done a few times, the reader loses the ability to feel excitement or interest in the characters and simply wants the tale to be over. In a way it is almost as if Wyndha couldn’t quite decide which direction to take the action, so took it briefly in all directions instead. This makes for a non-cohesive story that pulls away from the investment in the rich characters.
Additionally, I do not believe the whole concept of the triffids was used to its fullest extent. The name of the book has triffids in it, for goodness sake. I expect them to feature more prominently and fearfully than they do. Perhaps I’ve just read too many zombie books, but the triffids just seem more like a pest than a real threat. The concept of man-eating plants taking over the world is a keen one, and I wish Wyndham had invested more into it.
Overall, the book is a quick, entertaining, one-shot read that could have been much more if Wyndham had made better choices as an author. I recommend it to kitschy scifi and horror fans looking for a quick piece of entertainment.
3.5 out of 5 stars