on 14 October 2001
I read this book on the recommendation of my mum, and i thought it was great. It keeps you guessing and wondering through the story, and you feel desparate to jump in and talk to the characters to explain what you know but they don't! I also found myself moved to tears at the end, something i certainly had not expected from this type of book! If you are atall into sci-fi, aliens, space or stange happenings, read this book, you will love it!
on 7 February 2005
John Wyndham is one of my very favourite authors, and I would say that his "The Chrysalids" is my second favourite book of all that I've read (my favourite is Nevil Shute's "A Town Like Alice", I can read it over and over; and if you haven't read these two books now, go out and do so immediately!). I've also read his "Day of the Triffids" (also excellent), "The Kraken Wakes" (rather too like the "Triffids" in its premise, but also very good) and "The Midwich Cuckoos" (which inspired the film "The Village of the Damned" and was a strong story and a good read).
Chocky somehow seems less substantial than these others. Although I may be totally wrong about this, it almost gives the impression that it may have started life as a short story and later been a little expanded to make it into a short novel, or perhaps it may have been one of his very early attempts at a science-fiction novel, re-worked in later life.
Given that all novels are a product of their time and must be taken within the social and cultural context in which they are written, some attitudes which would now be considered unacceptable need to be overlooked. However, all of Wyndham's other books that I have read have contained major female characters with relatively strong personalities and minds of their own. The books seem to have a real flavour of the forties or early fifties (which was exactly right in the other books that I have mentioned, because that's exactly when they were written), and therefore some things have to be looked at in this light, and understood. However, in Chocky, there is far more overt sexism and women generally seem fairly two-dimensional - for all it was first published in the late sixties. Matthew, who is the young boy who hears the voice "Chocky" talking to him, is adopted, and his mother, Mary, (I've just had to go back and check the name, which tells you just how much notice I took of the character) seems to go from lamenting her lack of a child, to blaming him for the fact that she can't see either herself or his father in him when anything goes wrong, to being treated like a doormat by the members of her large family. She one-dimensional and is portrayed as conforming to many negative female stereotypes, which I find highly irritating.
Although I have picked on the characterisation of the mother in particular in this case, I think that all of the characters are rather sketchily drawn, and that one can find less to identify with than in other Wyndham books. As is usual in his books, the story is told in the first person, from the perspective of Matthew's father, David, in this case. However, he also is a character without great depth, and overall, the characterisation in the book leaves us feeling that something is lacking. Perhaps what also put me off was that the characters, as well as their lives were so suburbanly "normal", where his other books usually have one or two slightly quirky characters, or a very unusual situation for very "ordinary" types to live through.
Having thought about what I have just typed, anyone reading this must be wondering why on Earth I have given it a four-star rating. I actually had no intention to be so disparaging. One of the things that I have most enjoyed and admired about Wyndham's other books is the way I which he tells a story that has a lot in it, both in terms of narrative and characterisation, in such a small space. In this book, which is even shorter than most, it appears that something had to be cut back on and it was the characters' depth of personality.
Overall, though, the book is a well told story and I enjoyed it thoroughly, I just would not recommend it quite as highly as Wyndham's other books, and I would certainly recommend anyone who is thinking of reading Wyndham's books to start on "Chrysalids", "Triffids" or "Cuckoos" first. Wyndham is an author who took the genre of science fiction and made it into something very skilfully understated (and dare I say very British). Even those who would not touch most sci-fi should try these. Don't be put off by the label, they are far more sophisticated and deftly written than the run-of-the-mill, and a million miles away in content and narrative from conventional sci-fi. Do try this book if you've already read some Wyndham, but try one of his others first if you have not.
on 17 October 2012
I don't normally submit reviews for Kindle purchases as I read so many books I don't have time to review them.
John Wyndham is one of my favourite authors of all time, and Chocky is a brillant story, and various other reviewers have done the story justice.
However, I felt compelled to write to advise anyone else considering the electronic version of this edition to think very carefully first; it's the worst conversion I've yet to see in a paid-for book. I could have forgiven what are, presumably, OCR errors if it had been free but, sorry, when it's the thick-end of seven quid, I feel cheated.
My advice: buy the paperback until a proof-read Kindle version is available!
on 25 June 2012
Ever since that damning criticism his works have received by Brian Aldiss et.al for being smoothly-executed 'cosy catastrophes' for middle-class English shopkeepers, it has been difficult to see beyond this.
This strikes me as being a little unfair. Wyndham never purported to be interested in writing in the spaghetti-western-on-Uranus format. He wanted to bring all the strangeness and other-worldliness of Uranus into the front living rooms of a far more parochial mindset - and create a far more insidious sense of threat by so doing.
His characters are meant to be rather small and narrow in their thinking, as they grapple with the alien, the shock of the new, or the incomprehensibe.
In this last of Wyndham's works Chocky, it is not about world domination of man-eating planets or the plight of village communities under siege from radiation and genetic mutation, host parents bringing forth offspring destined to supplant the weaker species, but rather events taking place in a far more intimate setting, within the nexus of one small family.
Father David Gore notices that his adopted son Matthew, a supposedly 'normal' child has started to behave in ways that can no longer be considered to be altogether normal. A strange new genius mentality seems to be flowering within him, prompting him to ask troubling new questions about established learnings at school, much to the consternation of his teachers, who had hitherto regarded him as a plodder (which Matthew still is - this is not about 'his' genius).
On this level then, the novel works by gently satirising the mentality of those that prize brightness in children, but not actually that which really, truly does think outside the box. The line between genius and madness can be thin - and so can stigma, be only a breath away from admiration of true giftedness. At what point is giftedness, or contact with a guardian angel definitely a gift, rather than a handicap accompanied by a little autistic savantry, for example?
Matthew hears a voice in his head - not unknown among children, as his younger sister also went through a phase like this, but at his age...... Matthew's father treats his son always with a laudable sensitivity, but he does decide that this Chocky business can only be a job for a school psychologist.
This is where Chocky definitely takes the route of a pure science fiction novel. One shrink looks privately for professional advice from another, the other smells the scent of big money, something in it for the multinationals providing energy too, and all of a sudden, the personal interests of one small boy are further compromised by powers that be with vested interests far greater than the overall happiness of just one pawn.
The alien mission scout explains to Matthew's father that the future may well lie in sources of energy not even considered yet, even beyond that of the Sun, and that the work to bring this knowledge to humanity will now have to be conducted elsewhere. Matthew, meanwhile, will develop his residual talents safely away from disciplines that may attract negative attention from the wrong quarters again. Talents for which he will be able to take full credit, rather than being unable to explain that he was simply a channel for something other from him.
Yes - the book may well seem a little dated now, but my guess is that any families and communities are just as parochial and intolerant nowadays of what they are reluctant to understand as they were in Wyndham's time. Chocky is still a fascinating read. Are there any more contemporary novels that have done this any better?
on 2 December 1998
This book is narrated by a farther who finds his eldest son is begining to behave strangely. It begins by asking strange questions and soon Mathew can do things he had never been able to do before. Graually Mathew tells his parents about Chocky who talks in his head and and teaches him new things. However there are people on earth who would rather these things were not learnt by a young boy who might share the secret with everyone. Can Mathew's parents help him through this and protect him, and what is xxxxxxxxxx? I have read this book over and over again and I still find it impossible to put down. It is a wonderful example of Wyndham's ability to place fantastical events into humdrum everyday settings in such a way that you come out of the book seeing your home street as an exciting mysterious place. It also confronts the faer that seems to stalk so many parents: "What do we do if our child isn't "normal"?"
on 4 August 2004
Young Matthew Gore is an ordinary suburban boy who begins to hold long conversations with a mysterious presence that no-one else can perceive. His worried parents watch fearfully and try to help the boy, as he begins to produce extraordinary artworks and think in binary. His capacity for physics suddenly becomes boundless and he has knowledge which eminent scientists would find quite amazing. This novel is a record of the ambiguously sexed Chocky's impact on the lives of the Gore family.
Chocky is not a work that fits with our go-faster-stripe marked times. Had it been written today, Chocky could have well been a menacing presence, most likely would have been misconstrued as attempting to conquer the mind of this one child and perhaps next, the world entire. But no, he/she is not a malevolent force, more reminiscent of a petulant, demanding child than remorseless conqueror. And therein, lies this novel's strength, for Chocky is like an innocent taste of yesterday. A reminding flavour of simpler times, somehow ageless like honey; even though it was written quite some years ago and could easily have aged badly. Worth investigating and definitely recommended.
This is one of those books that, with time and exposure, must somewhat lose the 'shock factor' and surprise that the twist ending might have given to readers much less familiar with science fiction conventions when it was first written.
That's not to say Chocky doesn't make some excellent points.
Eleven year old adopted son Matthew begins talking to what appears to be an imaginary friend, whom he calls Chocky. His parents start to be concerned when he and Chocky appear to have very unusual conversations about subjects surely out of Matthew's sphere of understanding - the objectivity of time, binary numbers, renewable energy sources.
90% of the story moves us up to the revelation of the truth. It feels quite slow-paced for a 150 page book and could have worked as a 30 page short story as well, in my opinion.
It does work though, the father narrating Matthew's story, his feelings, the growing media interest in Matthew and Chocky's interactions. As a reader, you do a little guessing yourself.
I enjoyed it, though I felt for the younger sister Polly, who seems to be sometimes made fun of by the writer (for horse obsessions and her own earlier imaginary friend) or sidelined by Matthew's circumstances.
I only came across this recently and having enjoyed other Wyndham classics, thought I'd try this lesser-known story. It takes very little time and does have a few thinking points towards the denouement.
on 12 May 2003
Reading Chocky again was like watching a favourite black and white film. Surely Wyndham IS the Cary Grant of sci-fi writers? I don't know what he looked like, but his prose is very beautiful and refined.
Even now the plot is original - yes, children are possessed all over literature nowadays - but never so intelligently as Matthew by Chocky. You'll think about the issues raised for a long time to come.
on 23 August 2010
I caught a radio adaptation of the story on BBCR7 on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks back. I found it very interesting and intriguing, but if the radio adaptation was good the book was much more interesting! It seems astounding to me that the book was first published in the 1960s as the problems it deals with are as topical now as they were when the book first appeared.
The only other John Wyndham novel I'd heard of was the Midwich Cuckoos, mainly because of the film, but I don't think making a film version of Chocky would be possible. Even the radio adaptation made certain radical changes which take away some of the impact of the book.
Of course there are certain features of the book, the father calling his son "old man"! which seem out of date to us, but given that the story seems to take place in the 1959s is excusable. Brian Alldiss's introduction make play of the idea of the main character's "mysogyny" which is excusable for the 1950's setting, but the family stuff is still relevant.
I'm not a sci-fi fan, but this is really good fiction, and leaves the mind pondering on the ideas clearly set out. Terrific stuff!Chocky (Penguin Modern Classics)
on 12 July 2003
Don't be fooled if your only contact with John Wyndham's Chocky was via the original 1984 children's TV series: the book was never intended for children, and indeed is written in a much darker and more fascinating way.
If you enjoy the kind of organic sci-fi that Wyndham has produced such perfect examples of with Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Awakes etc, you will find Chocky at the very least as good as, if not better, than those two titles. Gripping and chilling stuff.