Thursday, 28 November 2019
Chocky by John Wyndham (1968)
John Wyndham is known for his ‘logical fantasies’ which have been described as modified science fiction. I’ve previously read his The Day of the Triffids and enjoyed that. Chocky is quite a different story. It has a slower pace and doesn’t have much action to speak of but it has plenty of thoughtful and interesting ideas.
Matthew is an ordinary eleven year old boy whose parents begin to get concerned when he starts talking to an imaginary friend. His younger sister, Polly, when she was around the age of five, disrupted the family for some time with her invisible friend, Piff. A family outing for a meal required a mystified waitress to add an extra chair for Piff or Polly would disturb her Dad at a critical moment in a movie by calling out from her room that Piff was in desperate need of a drink of water.
The problem was that Matthew wasn’t a five year old. He was eleven and his imaginary friend, Chocky, was asking him some very complicated questions and causing him to say some startling things.
The situation came to a head when Matthew inexplicably performed a feat that was beyond him and the media got word of it. Reporters started turning up at the family home or waylaid Matthew on his way home from school. Matthew also began to draw attention to himself by the unusual art work he was producing, something he’d never shown talent for previously. His maths teacher quizzed his parents about who was the mathematician in the family who had been teaching Matthew advanced concepts. Matthew had been getting muddled with some teaching on the binary code but when his parents showed their lack of mathematical ability the teacher was perplexed and expressed his concern that this 'new-found knowledge' was confusing Matthew.
Matthew's parents decided to take Matthew to a psychiatrist. This worthy doctor's opinion (or so he made them believe) was that there was nothing to worry about and he tried to relieve their anxiety by telling them that the fantasy would break up of itself and disperse.
However, the psychiatrist had found the problem fascinating and became excited at what he discovered when he put Matthew under hypnosis (without his parent’s knowledge or consent!). The implications to him were like finding gold.
The little blurb on the front cover of my book stars that the story is ‘disturbing in an entirely unexpected way.’
Chocky was first published in 1968 and it has a slightly dated feel in some ways so the part I found most disturbing was the behaviour of the psychiatrist!
Matthew’s father is the narrator and he’s quite matter-of-fact so the story stays on an even keel. I really liked the author's handling of the dynamics between father and son and the interplay between the very ordinary and the bizarre in the story.
There is some suspense, more so towards the end, but there’s also some light relief in the form of family dynamics. I think if the book had been written a few decades later, or if it was made into a movie now, it could really be quite sinister.
The ending was very science fiction-ish and unbelievable but I don’t know that it could have ended any other way. Overall it was a good read with some interesting ideas to ponder.
Chocky was a book I became aware of when I visited the Armitt Museum in Ambleside a couple of months ago and looked at some of the PNEU (Parent's National Education Union) material that had been used for students in Years 9/10.
Back to the Classics 2019: Classic Novella (153 pgs)