I have a theory, and it's that John Wyndham's books probably always seemed a little bit old-fashioned - even when they were originally published: this is the hurdle and resistance that anyone who comes to these books, today, must certainly overcome. It's the awkward and slightly anachronistic dialogue that, for me, is mostly to blame for creating this impression - what I refer to as the 'talky middle-class English parlour' brand of dialogue, which I'm confident has little claim on reality beyond the closed fictional worlds of Mr Wyndham's novels and the like. For example - given that this later work, 'Chocky', was published in 1968 (the era of the American Civil Rights movement - culminating with the assassination of Martin Luther King, the era in which television was truly getting into its stride and broadening its popular appeal, when NASA's Apollo space programme was forging ahead and capturing the modern (and vernacular) imagination, and when the general population was trying to come to terms with the Beatles' challenging 'White Album'), I find it very hard to accept that a contemporary parent of that era could ever have referred to his 12-year-old son as 'old man' (as is the case here) without eliciting some suitable protest from the child: that just grates and seems so out of keeping with the times - a decade or more out of touch, I'd say! So much for the preamble; now to the bones of the book...
The story centres around a few challenging months in the life of young Matthew Gore - the boy adopted by David and Mary Gore at a time when they were fearful of ever having children of their own, and who (as these things have a habit of turning out) was soon to be joined by an obstreperous little sister called Polly: the natural child of his adoptive parents. One day, quite out of the blue, his father notices Matthew in a squabbling conversation with...himself, or at least - with an imaginary friend he names as Chocky. Perhaps the boy is a bit on the old side for that sort of thing, but there it is. As imaginary friends go, Chocky appears to be something quite extraordinary; for he (or she) appears to far exceed - in terms of ability and proficiency - the young and immature mind of his/her 'creator', which really should not be. So how, exactly, might Chocky be explained? A fictional creation, the worrying symptom of some onset mental affliction, or an example of old-fashioned bewitchment or spiritual possession? This brief synopsis essentially forms the crux of the plot, such as it is, with the reader being led through a series of episodic events as Matthew's parents attempt to ascertain the true nature of the Chocky phenomenon - whether he/she represents a malevolent threat to their son, or whether a benign and beneficial influence. Of course, you wouldn't expect me to spoil it by revealing the outcome...
Part of the problem I have with this book stems, I believe, from the fact that the story is always too firmly centred on the Gore nuclear family and never strays too far beyond those claustrophobic bounds, which unfortunately doesn't exactly make for a thrilling narrative dynamic. It doesn't help much, either, that the story is related exclusively in the First Person: I do understand how much easier it must have been to write 'Chocky' from David Gore's patriarchal viewpoint, but I can't help feeling that this is one of those books that would have benefited considerably from a Third Person narrative - with the opportunity this would have provided for resorting to an 'omniscient authorial voice'. Not only would this have allowed the depiction of familiar events, as the other family members experienced them, it would also have permitted an exploration of Matthew's own sensations and feelings whenever Chocky made an appearance (something his adoptive father could NOT have directly perceived or described, for obvious reasons!) - and that would surely have made for a much more interesting and enjoyable read. I must also just add that some elements of the storyline do tend to tax the reader's credulity - for example, a kidnapping that extends over a number of days but which unaccountably finds the police force quite unconcerned about investigating the circumstances or finding the perpetrators, and with neither family nor friends appearing at all concerned that the culprits should ever be captured and properly punished: that sort of thing, I'm afraid, just doesn't ring true!
'Chocky' is something of a sparse book, in a variety of ways: it's physically short, the plot is a bit on the meagre side, and it was written towards the end of John Wyndham's career as a novelist - when his creative powers were very obviously on the wane. Returning to a theme I addressed at the beginning, reading this book served to reinforce a suspicion (and curious contradiction) I had long entertained about one particular aspect of Mr Wyndham's writing: he seems to be perfectly adept when it comes to putting words into the mouths of his younger characters (one of the reasons why 'The Chrysalids' - which is narrated predominantly from the perspective of the children therein - is such a triumph, I believe), but the dialogue he attempts to weigh upon the tongues of his adult characters always seems so terribly stilted and unnatural (and so perhaps is why 'The Midwich Cuckoos' - which features adults endlessly and obsessively talking about their troublesome brood - is not as fine a book as it should have been.) I was prepared, quite early on, to award this novel three stars (and three stars only) until I finally arrived at Chapter Eleven and thought that Mr Wyndham had redeemed himself, to some extent, and just about scraped home with that coveted fourth star - although the matter-of-fact way in which David Gore gains an understanding of who and what Chocky is perhaps redefines the term 'stiff upper lip' and might well have concluded, at the end of the chapter, with a perfunctory 'righto' from that aforementioned individual!
So, finally, to conclude: 'Chocky' the book is good in parts, but it's by no means great. There's nothing to particularly distinguish it - to set it apart from the crowd - and it should merely be read for what it is: a diverting but undemanding novel.
(P.S: In terms of terrible typos, this Kindle edition is perhaps the worst e-book I have read to date. Where are the proofreaders?)