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Monday, 5 December 2011

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

Until my boyfriend mentioned it to me, I had never heard of The Midwich Cuckoos before, a lack of knowledge that positively horrified him. So when I found a copy of it at a used book sale, I thought I might as well check it out, as it had an interesting premise. So was it any good? Certainly if you're looking for something unsettling.

The premise of The Midwich Cuckoos is a simple enough one. One day, a small inconsequential English village just stops as an area of two miles in every direction, with the village in the middle, causes all those within that area falls unconscious. When the area disappears, everything seems to go back to normal, until every woman able to have children who were in the village that day falls pregnant at the same time, including virgins. If that weren't weird enough, the children all look identical to one another and appear to be able to influence people around them with just a thought. I absolutely love this premise. What I like in particular is the reaction to the mass pregnancy, simply because it's a relic of another time. This was published in 1957, when there was a huge emphasis on women's virginity being intact when she marries. The automatic reaction in this case would be that these women are quite loose, but the fact that everyone has to band together in order for this reaction to be avoided is utterly fascinating for me. The other part of the pregnancy section which comes up quite a bit is the idea that the women in the village aren't the childrens' mothers, but rather that they were hosts through which the children could be born. That kind of idea is horrific for me. Don't get me wrong, I'd like children some day, but the idea that I had gotten pregnant without intending to is a terrifying prospect in itself; if I knew that said baby wasn't actually mine, I can't even begin to think what I'd do. In comparison, the fact that these children seem to be demon spawn seems less terrifying. Not that the Children aren't creepy, I just think that it's easier to get scared of a prospect that seems vaguely possible and/or you can see it happening to you. But yeah, overall a very eerie plot.
The actual characters themselves are kind of bland in comparison. Like with Philip K. Dick, there's more emphasis on story than very deep characters. I think the only one that really escapes this is Gordon Zellaby, who is a philosopher, I presume, who manages to be very complex and sympathetic, although his monologues can be annoying at times. The Children also escape this, but I hesitate to say that it's because they're particularly multi-layered as opposed to being really inhuman and uncanny.

This creates a creepy atmosphere really well and plays on real human fears, making this quite an eerie read. It's quite intellectual, much like The Man in the High Castle, but I think the character of Zellaby and the moral quandary that crops up towards the end justifies it to a certain degree. A book that I would recommend, as I can see this staying with me for a while yet to come. 4/5

Next review: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Signing off,

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