The Day of the Triffids, On Writing, Slammerkin

A bit of old-fashioned science fiction, some writing advice and an 18th century story – what do they have in common? Nothing really, other than the fact that I’ve read them because I wanted a break from the fairy tales and if I don’t put them all into one post instead of three, I may never catch up on my reviews.

The Day of the Triffids The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

It’s no surprise I never heard of this book as I’m not a science fiction fan, but when it came up at my book club I thought it would be fun to read. Plus, the words “post-apocalyptic” have always held a sort of magic spell over me. It turns out my instinct was right. It was a fun and enjoyable book to read, which may be an odd choice of words considering I was reading a story in which the world was turned upside down in one night due to a meteorite shower and the people who watched it lost their eyesight as a result. It’s similar to the movie Blindness based on the novel by José Saramago, but with triffids – plants who have invaded the world and whose deadly stings can kill instantly.
The story is told from the point of view of William Masen, a Londoner, who wakes up after an eye surgery to find out the world he knew was no more. As one of the few people who still retained his eyesight, he set out to find out what caused this, and forms a partnership with Josella, a girl who was saved from blindness by a most terrible hangover which had her spend the previous night sleeping and thus oblivious to the meteorite shower. Together they navigate the perilous paths into this new world, complete with frequent visits to various pubs for a drink or two, being captured by blind people and used as guides, and having to survive the ever-adapting triffids.
The book has a very British feel to it which I enjoyed, like this paragraph which describes William waking up in the hospital the day the world went blind:

“No one, it seemed, was interested in bells. I began to get as much sore as worried. It’s humiliating to be dependent, anyway, but it’s a still poorer pass to have no one to depend on. My patience was whittling down. Something, I decided, had got to be done about it.”

Another paragraph is an echo of the world we live in today, which is most interesting, considering the book was written in 1951:

“The world we lived in was wide, and most of it was open to us with little trouble. Roads, railways, and shipping lines laced it, ready to carry one thousands of miles safely and in comfort. If we wanted to travel more swiftly still, and could afford it, we traveled by airplane. There was no need for anyone to take weapons or even precautions in those days. You could go just as you were to wherever you wished, with nothing to hinder you – other than a lot of forms and regulations. A world so tamed sounds utopian now. Nevertheless, it was so over five sixths of the globe – though the remaining sixth was something different again.”

The story gives ample details about the origins of the triffids, William’s life, as well as various philosophical musings like this one:

“The human spirit continued much as before – 95 per cent of it wanting to live in peace, and the other 5 per cent considering its chances if it should risk starting anything. It was chiefly because no one’s chances looked too good that the lull continued.”

While this is a gloomy story, there’s a pervasive feeling of hope, as the two protagonists build a life together in the new world. It has an “everything happens for a reason” feel, and a good ending.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

On Writing On Writing – Stephen King

It’s the second time I’ve read this book and found it just as good as the first time. Some parts I remembered, especially the ones about King’s childhood and his accident in 1999. Others I was happy to discover yet again.
The book is divided into sections – the first,C.V., covers details about King’s life and how daily things influenced his writing. There’s also a section with advice for new writers, starting with the tools you need in order to write, discussing whether writing classes are really necessary, how to find an agent, and fragments of edited work with explanations. At the back there’s a list of recommended books and I was happy to see a few of my favorites among them: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Drood by Dan Simmons, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters and A Widow for One Year by John Irving. That list made me curious about writers I haven’t read yet: Pat Barker, Don DeLillo, Roberto Bolaño and Donna Tartt.

This is a book based on years of experience – you can see it in the tone, helpful, honest and to the point. It feels like a conversation with a friend, but I may be biased in my judgment, as I see most of his books that way. There were so many good passages – some have been used as quotes for years since this book was first published in 2000. And because there were so many and I wanted to be able to find them easily, I did what I rarely if ever, do with a book – underline favorite sentences of even whole paragraphs. Here are some of my favorites:

“If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”

“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

“…while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.”

My rating: 5/5 stars

Slammerkin Slammerkin – Emma Donoghue

Slammerkin, noun, eighteenth century, of unknown origin. 1. A loose gown. 2. A loose woman.

Slammerkin is the fourth novel by Emma Donoghue. I have heard of her famous “Room” but after reading from it at the bookstore, I decided that an 18th century tale would be a better choice for me.

Mary Saunders is a poor girl living with her family in London in 1752. She is five years old. That year her father dies in prison and eleven years later Mary is there as well, although the reason is not revealed until the end.
May is ambitious and determined that one day she will walk around the city wearing the finest clothes. It is her desire for fine fabrics and bright colors that would lead her to a life of prostitution and ultimately to leave the city as her life is in danger. There’s a pivotal point in the novel where Mary decides she’d had enough of life on the streets and decides to go back to her mother’s village and find her mother’s childhood friend, Mrs. Jones, and ask for her help.
This is a time that Mary enjoys for the most part as she becomes one of the family. The Joneses are nice people and they treat her well. Mrs Jones takes her on as a helper in her dressmaking business and once again Mary’s hunger for beautiful fine clothes is beginning to threaten the new life she has fought so hard for.

This historical inspired novel shows a rough side of London. There is little hope for the poor, and school is not deemed particularly useful, especially for girls. There’s never enough food, it’s cold, and the gap between the wealthy and the poor is as wide as ever.
The book is peppered with short clothes-related rhymes like these which give the story an almost playful tone:

Ribbon brown, ribbon rose
Count your friends and your foes


Ribbon green, ribbon red
The tale’s not told till you’re dead

Mary is not a particularly likeable character. I did sympathize with her at first – growing up with a stepfather and an overwrought mother who’s only too happy to get rid of her when the girl makes a mistake, but after deciding to change her life, Mary takes one bad step after another. The ending is shocking to say the least. I had hoped for some crumb of happiness for the poor girl but it was not to be. Her fault lay in wanting too much and too fast and she is punished for it. But perhaps I’m expecting too much from a sixteen-year-old heroine. It was a fun book to read but the only thing I’ll probably remember from it is the image of a young prostitute in a beautiful dress with a red ribbon in her hair.

My rating: 3/5 stars

Read in April-May, 2014

This entry was posted in The Book on The Nightstand. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Day of the Triffids, On Writing, Slammerkin

  1. Thanks for some super commentary here Delia.

    I really have wanted to read Day of the Triffids for a long time. I am a big fan of the original film version.

    I saw the film Blindness a few years ago which was based upon Jose Saramag’s highly acclaimed literary novel of the same name. I have not read that book either but the similarities in plot with the film Day of the Triffids were too numerous to be a coincidence.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brian,
      I didn’t know there was a movie based on The Day of the Triffids. It should be interesting to see how they created the triffids, they seemed quite creepy in the book. I hope you get to read it.
      I haven’t read José Saramago’s novel but the movie was good.

  2. Athira says:

    Some great books here! I am intrigued by that 18th century Emma Donoghue book. I did not enjoy her ROOM too much, so this will be interesting to read.

    • Delia says:

      Slammerkin is a fun read, plus I’ve never heard of the word before so that was new. 🙂
      People seem to like “Room” but for some reason I wasn’t attracted to it. Too much hype, I suppose.

  3. Vishy says:

    Wonderful reviews, Delia! I knew that ‘The Day of the Triffids’ was about plants invading the world, but I didn’t know that everyone in the world went blind. The parallels with Jose Saramago’s ‘Blindness’ are interesting. I loved the film version of Saramago’s book. I will add ‘The Day of the Triffids’ to my wishlist and will look for it.

    So glad to know that you enjoyed re-reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. I loved all the passages that you have quoted. I hope you do get to read Roberto Bolaño and Donna Tartt sometime. I loved Bolaño’s ‘The Savage Detectives’ though it was not easy to get into. I also loved Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’, though I am not sure whether I will like that book now if I re-read it, because the central theme of the book has been beaten to death by other writers.

    ‘Slammerkin’ looks like an interesting depiction of the Victorian era. It also looks like a book with a bleak ending. I don’t know whether I would read it. It makes me remember ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ by Michel Faber, because their central themes look very similar (a young girl tries to survive life in London by becoming a prostitute).

    Thanks for these beautiful mini-reviews 🙂

    • Delia says:

      Hi Vishy,
      Not everybody went blind in “The Day of the Triffids” but most did. It was scary and also funny at the same time. It seems that “having a drink” was quite the popular thing to do after the disaster struck. Imagine all that alcohol going to waste. 🙂

      I’d like to read “The Secret History” one day, I keep hearing about this book.

      “Slammerkin” is based on a true story from before the Victorian era and you’re right, the ending isn’t great. It was actually shocking but fitting in with the tone of the book.

      “On Writing” is one of my favorite books. I turn to it every now and then and just read random passages. I like the way it’s written, in a no-nonsense way. Glad to see you like those passages as well.

  4. Brona says:

    Hopefully this brush with The Triffids will lead you on try Wyndham’s other books. They all deal with end of the world as we know it/alien scenario’s all told in a very English voice 🙂
    They’re wonderful rainy weekend reads.

    I also read and loved Room…and then read Slammerkin next. Two very different books, but two women that Donoghue helps you to understand and sympathise with.

    I’ve been meaning to read the King book on writing for a very long time. Your’s is the third review for it this week!! I think the gods are trying to tell me something 🙂

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brona,
      I wouldn’t say no to another Wyndham book, I like end-of-the-world stories for some reason; let’s see what else comes my way.
      I’m still debating whether I should read Room, I think I will, eventually.
      It does look like the universe is trying to point you to King’s book. I hope you enjoy it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *