Madhulika Liddle's Reviews > The Day of the Triffids

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
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The start of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids is suspense at its best: a man wakes up in a hospital bed, aware that his eyes—bandaged for the past week—are going to be un-bandaged today.

Ironical, then, that when the protagonist, an English biologist named Bill Masen, finally does get rid of the bandages (a task he’s forced to accomplish himself), it’s to find that he may be the only human being for miles around who can see. A spectacular meteor shower the previous night, one which was eagerly watched by millions, has had a catastrophic effect: everybody who saw it has gone blind, overnight. To make matters worse, triffids—odd, ‘walking’ carnivorous plants originally from Russia but now cultivated all over Britain for a valuable oil derived from them—have suddenly started breaking out of their fences and gone on a rampage, killing people who are already helpless and blind.

This double disaster is the set-up for Masen’s attempts to find a place for himself in a suddenly frightening world. With the help of a few others, whom he gradually comes in contact with—especially a pretty writer called Josella Playton, who’d once written something called Sex is my Adventure—he sets about trying to understand the new rules, or lack of rules, for life.

I thought The Day of the Triffids ironically titled, because the triffids are, all said and done, just one part of the problem. Wyndham’s book is more than a mere ‘monster plant’ story: it’s an interesting, thought-provoking (and disturbing) tale of how terribly fragile human ‘civilization’ can be.

What would happen if most of the people who keep modern society functioning—government, police, armed forces, media—were to suddenly become incapable of doing so? What if agriculture, electricity, roads, houses, fuel, even everyday amenities like modern plumbing and sewage systems, were to go kaput because those who maintained them could no longer do so? What if the burden of keeping alive thousands of suddenly-disabled fellow humans fell on just a few able-bodied people? That too strangers? What would be the impact on lives, on ethics, on human relationships? To what point in civilization would society slip back and have to begin rebuilding?

Plus, the ethics of science, commerce, politics—and how they’re linked. The triffids, as Masen (who is the narrator) mentions in the beginning of the book, aren’t really anything new. They’ve been around for a long while, growing in gardens, parks, and jungles, even cultivated across the world for their oil. But what happens when science can no longer control something (a foreshadowing of Monsanto, here?) it once harnessed?

The book has a couple of problems. I did not find the Masen-Josella romance convincing, for example. The fact, too, that triffids are mentioned (before the ‘Day of the Triffids’) as being actually predatory and often killing people in tropical countries makes me wonder how anybody—even in temperate climates—could have been complacent enough to grow them in gardens.

Despite that, though, a book I’d recommend. Not for the idea about man-eating plants, but because of the interesting questions Wyndham throws up about human society.
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June 19, 2015 – Shelved
June 19, 2015 – Finished Reading

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