62 years seems a safe enough margin to leave things before being sure that a book really is worth reading… so I’ve finally read John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes. My only regret is that I waited so long.
Similar in many ways to Wyndham’s earlier The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes also involves another lifeform causing catastrophe for humanity, with by the end society struggling to survive and rebuild.
However, rather like Karel Capek’s excellent War with the Newts, this story concentrates more on how countries react in the face of a novel threat, using this as a hook for some biting commentary on the state of the country, and the global economic and diplomatic systems at the time of writing.
Less acerbic is Wyndham’s attitude towards gender stereotypes and although the heroes of the story are a married couple in which the wife too is a skilled professional with a career, she is also the one prone to flirting, hysterics, manipulation and deceit whilst her husband is stolid, reliable and uncomplaining.
The book’s other main flaw is its slow, uniform pace (save for two big jumps in time). In places the slow pace nicely ratchets up the mystery and tension, yet in others when you know what is coming next in broad outline, the inching towards it can be frustratingly slow, especially as the repartee between the characters switches between the very clever and the rather mundane.
Yet in the book’s favour is its effective description of a world sucumbing in stages to catastrophe, with a mysterious alien enemy about whom not very much is ever learnt and with some brilliant set piece scenes, such as the description of a flooded London. Indeed, in this respect time has been kind to the book, for the flooding happens thanks to one of the alien tactics being to melt the polar ice caps, something that climate change has now made a very current concern.
So not a perfect book but still a great read.
If you like this, you might also be interested in Karel Capek’s War with the Newts.
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