The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Posted On 22 March 2018

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chrysalidsI read The Chrysalids in January as part of Vintage Sci Fi month and so I’m a little ashamed to be only just writing a review.  But, here goes.

This is my second Wyndham novel, The Day of the Triffids being my first experience of his work.  To be honest, I hadn’t heard of this book but picked it up on the recommendation of other bloggers who rated it highly.  For quite a short book it has a surprising impact and has aged remarkably well.

Whilst it’s not specifically referenced as such the world here is a post apocalyptic one.  Nuclear war (known here as ‘Tribulation’) has happened and vast swathes of the world have been left uninhabitable.  The people who inhabit Labrador live simple farming lives.  Whilst they are familiar with the advances made by society pre Tribulation they hold no such aspirations towards modern inventions.  They believe that Tribulation was an act of God and they practice an over zealous form of Christianity that allows no margin for difference.

The story follows David Storm.  We make his acquaintance when he is still a fairly young boy as he makes friends with a young girl from the community called Sophie.  This is when we first witness the true nature of the society in which David lives.  Sophie has been born with a mutation, presumably an after effect of the nuclear fallout.  She has six toes on each foot.  Her family have kept this imperfection a secret but David unwittingly finds out.  David agrees to keep Sophie’s secret, he likes her family and feels comfortable in their home, a loving family setting that is quite far removed from his own home life.  David’s father is an important religious figure in the community and strictly enforces the doctrines at home.  The religion practiced in Labrador has a very strict code of how a person should look and having a sixth toe definitely doesn’t fit within that code.  Of course secrets have a way of wriggling into the open and eventually Sophie and her family have to go on the run.  The story then moves forward, but not before we become aware that David is keeping a secret of his own, one that is made much more frightening when he witnesses first hand what becomes of people who differ.  David is telepathic, and he’s not the only one.

The story then jumps forward in time.  David and his friends have managed to keep their secret.  In fact they’ve become quite skilled in telepathy forming a sophisticated way of communicating that relies on shape patterns and that conveys so much more than basic talking can do.  Unfortunately, in spite of their cautious outlook a number of situations eventually occur and result in unfavourable attention falling in their direction and the group have to make the decision to go on the run before they are taken and questioned.

What I really like about this book is the way in which it’s written.  Unsurprisingly, given that it was written in the 50s, it has a certain style that brings with it a sense of nostalgia.  It simply isn’t a modern book and that much is patently obvious when reading it and yet the simplicity of the story has helped to prevent it becoming dated.  It’s also a fascinating story that looks particularly at acceptance – or the lack of it in this case.  The fear of anything that is different and the ostracisation of anything that doesn’t follow the norm.  In the story there’s a place in the wild where all those who don’t fit in have settled.  It’s a desperate and violent place, food is in short supply and the people there live harsh lifestyles.  It’s over 60 years since this book was published and yet the message it delivers is still relevant.

There’s a dramatic finale that I really didn’t expect and at first that I felt almost jarred with the story in that it was so unexpected yet on reflection I find myself feeling that it fit in really well.  Without giving too much away the final outcome involves people from another part of the world who are much more technologically advanced.  Presumably Sealand, as it’s known in the book, was unaffected by the nuclear holocaust that affected many other parts of the world and in fact they’ve continued to advance.  They eventually travel to Labrador as part of a rescue operation but this inevitably results in conflict.  I admit that the conclusion was a bit sudden but then this is a fairly short story.

Overall I really enjoyed this.  It’s a quick read that packs a punch.  I cared about David – I cared about Sophie.  I wanted to shout at people in this story to leave them alone! It was shocking to witness some of the events and the impact they had, it was almost like a witch hunt in terms of the feeling of hysteria that anything ‘different’ provoked.  Definitely a book that I would recommend.  This may be a fairly short story and a quick read but it carries a strong message that is pertinent and important.

Where I got the book: bought



19 Responses to “The Chrysalids by John Wyndham”

  1. S. C. Flynn

    An old fav!

    • @lynnsbooks

      It seems like most people read this in school – this is my first time. It has that lovely old feeling in terms of style but the actual story and setting haven’t really dated and it has a clear message.
      Lynn 😀

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    It’s been a good number of years since I read this one (three decades at least, if not more), so many details have become a little fuzzy, but I recall how stifling and confining that community felt. Now, reading your review, I see how some of the themes would sound as fresh today as they were when the book was written – if not more.
    Now you made me want to re-read it – and that’s a good thing! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, the world was definitely stifling and the attitudes, so rigid, no room for compassion or decency. I enjoy reading books like this, their writing style is clearly not the same as the current style but there’s something about it that makes me feel nostalgic. And there’s a sort of simplicity in the stories – like the authors were forging new ground so they didn’t have to overwhelm the storyline too much to make a point.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Greg

    This sounds really good! Especially since it’s a fairly older book, that it’s still relevant says a lot. I guess some themes are timeless, sadly. I saw The Triffid movie as a kid but have never read Wyndham, but now I want to get this one AND Triffids lol.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really like the Triffids. The two are quite different. The Triffids feels very much like a story – it’s great and I love it. This one feels much more like a message wrapped up in a story. Like the author really wanted to make a point. Of course I have no idea if that’s really the case but it’s the way it feels.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Yeah, most people know Wyndham for his Day of the Triffids, but The Chrysalids will forever and always be my favorite book by him. I had to read it in high school for English class! It might have been the only book assigned by my teacher that year that I actually enjoyed 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s a completely different style to the Triffids isn’t it. It really feels like it’s trying to tell a message whereas Triffids feels much more like a story – a good one mind.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Danya @ Fine Print

    My classic SFF education is woefully lacking — I haven’t actually read anything by Wyndham! I do like the idea of a quick story that packs a punch, especially since it has such a strong message about fearing anything different. Hopefully I’ll read The Chrysalids one day… 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Never say never. You can’t read everything but you can save it for a rainy day.
      Lynn 😀

  6. jessicabookworm

    Lynn, I am really pleased to hear you enjoyed this, After loving The Day of the Triffids, I really must try more by Wyndham.

    • @lynnsbooks

      well, I’ve only read two but they’ve both been very different and really good.
      Lynn 😀

  7. sjhigbee

    I read this book in my teens (NOT in my school) and fell in love with it. I am a huge fan of Wyndham – Chocky is also a very good book…

    • @lynnsbooks

      OOh, not heard of that, away I go to check it out.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        Look forward to hearing what you think of it:)

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