The end of the world is here. Unfortunately for our intrepid protagonist Bill Masen, he seems to have missed it.
A mysterious comet seems to have left everyone who watched it permanently blind. As chaos reigns and desperate people begin to band together, they are easy targets for the poisonous and carnivorous Triffids, which have been cultivated in captivity to cash in on their valuable oil.
Masen misses the entire thing, as he was recovering in the hospital from a sting from one of the Triffids. Soon, he finds himself in an extreme minority of people who can see the horrors of what is unfolding in London.
As people focus on tripping over things, breaking into shops and giving in to desperation, Masen and his new friend Josella are the only ones to take the threat of the monstrous plants seriously.
It’s not just the fact the Triffids are able to uproot and amble around stinging whatever they want – that would be creepy enough. It’s the fact that they seem to be able to communicate with each other through the means of vibrating stalks. And they manage to wait and hide behind garden walls and bushes to catch blind people unawares. And ultimately, they learn. Which is terrifying.
This isn’t just a fabulous story of survival against the odds. It’s also about human greed, about vanity and about the ethical question intrinsically attached to survival – would you leave people by the wayside if that meant saving others? If one assumed that the world had truly gone to pot and decided to start another civilization, would they deserve saving if help ever arrived? If they did nothing, would it be too late to save anyone at all?
Despite all of the cruelty and mismanagement demonstrated by the survivors, the story is compelling. Wyndham masterfully puts forward the case for both the humanitarians and the survivalists, the morality of the Christians and the structure of the dictatorship of the surviving gangs.
For me, there is always something especially delightful in reading something that is set in England. The fact that many of the clueless characters thought that the Americans were going to save them, and that “They wouldn’t let this happen in their country” was a touch of brilliance.
In the end though, the tale evokes the spirit of many of Wyndham’s science fiction predecessors – as Wells put it (with rather less subtlety), man never learns. Life goes on. The first instinct for those who survived the Day of the Triffids, the worst tragedy to befall man, was to become an army to impose itself on others. Isn’t that the true tragedy after all?
This review is part of my 1000 before 30 challenge, in which I attempt to read a thousand books before my 30th birthday. So far this year, I have read a total of 46 books and counting!
Creative commons image by Smabs Sputzer