Michael's Reviews > The Chrysalids

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
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's review
Jan 12, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: sci-fi

Wyndham's post-apocalyptic novel from the 50s recently was reissued by the New York Review of Books imprint, and thus my expectations were raised for this little sci-fi novel. Wyndham writes with the ease and clarity of a professional, especially geared toward a younger reader in its simple prose and innocent perspective. These aspects, though they may be the reason this book is still read today, hamper a serious look at the subject matter.

In David's world, Labrador hundreds of years from today after a Tribulation of nuclear war, is an interesting juxtaposition of a primitive world, set back by disaster, and the advancements of telepathy and eugenics. A peaceful, agrarian, xenophobic, patriarchal culture, this world looks much like a cozy English village must have only a few hundred years ago. All of this is imbued with a sort of Calvinist, fundamentalist austerity, in the lack of art on the wall, the preaching embroideries warning of the danger of mutants, and David's father's harshness in both reality and the recurring dream David has of him slaughtering a calf. Of course, David's telepathic abilities heavily affect the narrative, but often not in a good way, preventing the story from moving beyond a simple adventure narrative with a lot of exposition about "thought shapes." Sophie, David's early romance, flees with her family, after a boy sees her twelve toes, but they are caught. After Sophie smashed this boy on the head with a rock, the narrative could have taken a very interesting turn, perhaps exploring Sophie and David's life together in the fringes, but in the end David is a bit of an inactive punk with no drive and the story flounders.

Uncle Axel's description of the voyage south from Labrador gives a geographical history of the world, showing overwrought beautiful vegetation, mutants, and the Black Coasts, probably the charred remains left by Tribulation. This is a very clever device that gives a great little history lesson, allowing the reader to place the culture in some kind of continuum. Axel asks, What is the pure form? Why all these mutations? Radioactivity from Tribulation? And David, our surrogate, is a little too lazy to give a shit.

Woman are especially brutalized in this culture. David's aunt kills herself after his mother and father cast her and her mutant baby out. Three strikes and your out and sterilized, ladies.

Axel asks another important question. Why should we try to emulate the Old People, who brought on Tribulation?

Petra is the chosen one, with more raw telepathic ability than anyone, ever. Telepathy binds the children inextricably and complicatedly together. Anne marries a "norm" and then kills herself.

The very sudden exile of David, Rosalind and Petra is much like the exile of the Jews from Europe during the war, which Wyndham experienced. Michael is militantly vengeful. New Zealand is a place of the next level of people, with their advanced technologies and abilities. Middle Earth is the most modern place on earth, apparently.

Everything devolves into a deus ex machina when the Sealand lady saves the telepathic children and murders everyone else fringe dwellers and norms alike. Let's escape fascism for more fascism. Glorious.
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