Post apocalyptic stories are a favorite of mine and of that sub-genre this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. Written in 1951 it is still as chilling today as it was when I first read in when I was 10. It stands as one of only a handful of books I tend to reread annually. Most people, by now, are familiar with the story either through the horrendous 1958 movie with Howard Keel or, hopefully, the BBC TV adaptation in 1981 which is incredibly faithful to the book.
Our protagonist is Bill Masen a biologist who makes his living dealing with triffids. He is in the hospital with his eyes totally bandaged because a moment of inattention at work resulted in his face and eyes being splashed with triffid poison. The night before the bandages are to be removed there is a strange green meteor shower that he does not see. The next morning he wakes to an eery silence. At first he thinks he has just awakened early but as time passes and no one comes he pushes the nurse call. The resulting din of other patients calling for help makes Bill realizes that something has happened and no one is coming. Finally working up the courage to do so he removes his bandages and finds his sight is unimpaired from his brush with the triffid poison. Dressing he starts to leave the hospital and as he does he runs across dozens of hospital workers who have lost their sight. He finds a similar situation on the deserted streets - few people are out, there are no vehicles moving and the few people he does see are blind. That is until he runs into Josella Payton who also is sighted but has been taken prisoner and forced to act as a guide to a blinded man. They return to her home only to find her father has been killed by a triffid and finally, as a chaotic day ends, retreat to the upper floors of an apartment building and spend the night in an empty apartment. In the night they see a bright light shining in an otherwise darkened London and make note of where the beacon is.
The next morning they work their way to the beacon’s location and find other survivors lead by a man named Beadley. They join with him and his plan to take the group of survivors, sighted and unsighted, into the countryside to establish a colony. Some of the survivors disagree with Beadley’s plans - a polygamous arrangement of sighted and unsighted survivors working together to care for the unsighted and maintain the population. Before the more religious among the group, led by Miss Durant, can leave on their own a third group shows up. This group, led by Wildred Coker, starts a fire and in the confusion kidnaps several sighted survivors. His plan is that one sighted person is now responsible for finding food and other necessities for a group of unsighted. This is achieved by chaining the sighted person to a blind one so they can led the blind group in scavenging and help them avoid the triffids who are now roaming free and hunting people. Soon, however, people start falling ill with an unknown disease and die one by one. Bill stays with his group until the last one dies and then he goes in search of Josella.
At the tower where the survivors first gathered he finds both Coker and a clue leading him to Beadley’s colony. There he finds Miss Durant in charge and that Beadley had left several days earlier but no one has seen Josella. Bill and Coker decide to follow Beadsley and while they find small groups of sighted and unsighted survivors along the way there is no sign of Josella. Coker decides to return to Miss Durant’s colony while Bill forges ahead looking for Josella. He finds a young sighted girl, Susan, on his way whose young brother has been killed by a triffid, Together they eventually find Josella at a farm in Sussex with her friends who are now unsighted.
Several years pass as Bill and Josella and the group at the farm attempt to start a self-sufficient colony but it is a constant battle to keep themselves safe from the triffids. One day a helicopter lands in their yard and they find out that Beadsley’s faction has established a colony on the Isle of Wight and they are being invited to join them. The group decides to spend one last summer at their farm and then move to the Isle of Wight but fate again intervenes. Soon after the helicopter leaves a militaristic convoy from a despotic self-appointed government shows up and tries to impose a plan where more blind people would be put on the farm for Bill and Josella to use as slave labor and, worse, that Susan would be taken to headquarters. The head of this group is a man Bill recognize from London, a man who cold bloodedly shot and killed one of his own party who fell ill. Pretending to agree to his terms the group throws a party to celebrate and when the visitors are drunk, Bill disables the interloper’s armored car and as the family leaves they leave the fence open for the triffids to invade the farm. The novel ends with the group on the Isle of Wight.
The ending is a bit anticlimactic and rushed but the details of how society collapses and the various ways in which people feel the future should be handled are as relevant to today as they were to the society of almost 70 years ago. Highly recommended ~~ Stephanie L Bannon
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