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Book Review | Day of the Triffids


 

Book summary: After most people in the world are blinded by an apparent meteor shower, an aggressive species of plant starts killing people. (Wikipedia)


Day of the Triffids is recognised as a hugely-influential work of post-apocalyptic fiction, and rightly so having read it. You can read sections of this book and easily see where later stories originally came from, zombie stories in particular.


Part of that comes from most modern zombie stories being centred around the humans who survived and how they are coping, rather than the undead being the most serious threat. The triffids are a similar background antagonist here, with the story following Bill Masen's adaptation to the new world.


One of the main problems I found was that it's very clearly something written by a man in the Fifties, with it sometimes feeling almost like an author-insert fantasy. The first woman Bill meets, Josella, is a very intelligent and beautiful woman, who latches on to him immediately and the two end up a couple.


How Day of the Triffids treats women is quite problematic by today's standards, with lengthy descriptions of how beautiful many of the women who survived are, with no men ever receiving such detailed analysis - although it could be fairly argued that this is down to the first-person viewpoint we have as the audience, with the entire story being told from Bill's perspective rather than outright misogyny.


This first-person storytelling does lend itself to an interesting 'problem' of how much we can actually trust of what we are being told. There's more than one scenario where Bill views another person's actions as wrong, then does something extremely similar himself and attempts to justify it.


And the ending really throws into doubt how good a person he is - including the group he is with at the time - when he concocts a plan that results in the deaths of an admittedly intimidating, but otherwise non-hostile and non-aggressive group who visit them.


While reading it, this never really occurred to me because we all tend to empathise or try and find some connection with the protagonists of whatever media we are consuming at the time, and we'll justify it to ourselves that the character is in the right because we don't want admit that we were wrong about feeling a connection with them.


But the biggest issue I have with Day of the Triffids though, is that a lot of story feels skipped over. The first few days over which the story happens takes up what feels like half of the book, with the second half covering around six years (I haven't worked out the exact dates).


This serves to make the second half of the book feel a little insubstantial because it feels like very little happens and more like a list of events. It also virtually eliminates any sense of threat or danger from the setting, because the lack of detail over how they managed to survive makes their lives seem relatively simple despite what has happened to the world.


And that's what is ultimately so frustrating - the premise is excellent, but the potential feels wasted at times. It's an enjoyable read, and thankfully not too long, but it didn't really satisfy - especially when taking into account what similar, more modern stories have been able to achieve.


Day of the Triffids never really lives up to the promise of a post-apocalyptic survival story, with very little sense of threat or danger for the main characters. However, you can clearly see how similar later stories took their inspiration from it, with a number of scenes reminiscent of more modern stories.

[6/10]

 
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