January – The Day of the Triffids
The first Classics Project book of the year had a fairly inauspicious beginning, mainly because halfway through Gulliver’s Travels I managed to misplace the book… and it still hasn’t turned up yet. I think Justin must have had a tidying up the flat moment and put it away somewhere for me. I also have had limited time for reading, partly due to being busy at work and partly due to a Construction Site Health and Safety test that I have to study for, it’s not over yet and taking up much of my valuable reading time. Fortunately my project was saved by my clever selection process that included a variety of ‘difficulty levels’ so with days to spare I bumped The Day of the Triffids up the list into first place – an interesting and very quick read, achieved in two evenings. So what did I think of it? Well it ties in nicely with my recent thoughts about ‘end of civilisation’ scenarios, although clearly caused by different phenomena – in this case giant carnivorous plants and a global blindness epidemic instead of climate change – and I suppose its main attraction is the raising of these issues and questions. What would we do if the world as we know it suddenly changed beyond recognition? How would we individually react, would we fight to the death, forge a new path, or give up and end it all? This also ties in with the film ‘The Road’ that we saw recently, another apocalyptic survival scenario although a much more grim vision than in this book.
A brief synopsis – the main character wakes up after eye surgery to find that almost everyone in the world has been struck blind by a ‘meteor shower’ – what it really was is the subject of hints but not confirmed – and only those few who did not watch the lights have retained their sight. The Triffids are plants that are harmless when docked of their sting, but in the confusion surrounding the blinding clearly no-one’s thinking about horticultural pruning, so they start attacking people with the blind particularly vulnerable, and developing more and more sophisticated and intelligent ways of getting at them. Surviving people encounter conflicts between blind and sighted, and different methods of survival including scrounging an existence while waiting for help that never comes, stealing supplies from each other, assigning sighted people to look after blind groups, or starting a new existence in the countryside whilst battling the Triffids. In contrast to the fast-paced action-packed version that was on TV recently, the Triffids in the book are slow moving and easy for the sighted to outrun at first, they bide their time and wait to strike, gradually building their numbers and learning to outwit their human prey. This generates a gradual mounting of suspense, satisfyingly intriguing rather than outright gripping. While rather outdated in some of its viewpoints, especially those involving women and their physical/intellectual capabilities (after all it was first published back in the dark ages in 1951) it is otherwise surprisingly modern in content. It’s probably hard now to put it into context as it was no doubt quite revolutionary at the time, the forerunner of numerous followers in the apocalyptic sci-fi end of civilisation genre, which I imagine generated its classic status. Probably not life-changing, but an entertaining and thought-provoking read.
I have pinched this idea from Pete and Chris – thanks very much to them!
I have made a list of 100 ‘Classic’ books that I have wanted to read and/or feel like I should read, and then have prioritised them into a list of 12 to read one per month during 2010. I have adopted a slightly random selection process, some are on here because I already owned them or had ordered them from amazon (second hand books from as little as 1p plus postage, hooray! – that counts as recycling), some because I like the name or the cover (yes you can judge a book by its cover), but mostly they are just ones I have dredged up from various other people’s lists on the internet – I guess that’s a valid approach because if something is considered a classic that’s generally because a lot of other people have read it. I have tried to include a variety of genres, eras, and countries of origin (well, within a mainly ‘western’ base I suppose). I selected a few chunky tomes but probably more thinner manageable numbers to make sure I meet my target of 1 per month. And if necessary they can always change or be added to along the way (I do have quite a long backup list just in case…).
Anyway here’s my list, in no particular order:
1. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
2. The Sound and The Fury – William Faulkener
3. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
4. The Pillow Book – Sei Shonagan
5. I, Claudius – Robert Graves
6. The Day of The Triffids – John Wyndham
7. The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
8. Don Quixote – Cervantes
9. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
10. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
11. Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco
12. Les Miserables (in french, hopefully) – Victor Hugo
And that’s where I’m up to! I will hopefully be adding updates along the way to force me to review each book once I’ve read it, perhaps I’ll get more out of it that way, or at least I will be able to refer back to it when I’m old and have forgotten I ever read them…