John Wyndham was quite a proflic author, and Chocky is considered to be one of his major works, although it is less well-known than the likes of The Day of the Triffids. I suspect that most people presently seeking out the novel are doing so because of their memories of the ITV children’s television adaptation from the 1980s. My own nostalgia of that six-part drama has been prodding me for many years to read the original novel. Finally I have.
The story is told entirely from the perspective of the father of eleven-year-old Matthew Gore. We begin with Dad overhearing Matthew speaking to what appears to be an imaginary friend. It’s a little worrying that a boy so old should be indulging in such a fantasy, but what’s even more worrying is the bizarre subject matter of the conversation. Matthew is attempting to form answers to questions like “Why are there seven days in a week?” and “Why 31 days in a month?” Later, Matthew learns to count in binary, using the symbols Y and N for positive and negative. If he had read it in a book he would certainly be using 1 and 0. This imaginary friend also seems to have no concept of the time of day, insisting on quizzing Matthew at various hours of the day and night. When confronted by his parents, Matthew tells them about Chocky. Matthew’s father is uncertain about dismissing Matthew’s fantasy, so he calls in the help of a psychiatrist, Dr. Landis. As a reader, I have a pet hate for the kind of stories where a child has something fantastic happen to him, and all the adults refuse to believe him, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence. To my delight, Chocky does not go down this road. The adults realise that Chocky is objectively real. But who is this entity and what is his/her/its purpose? Is it friend or foe? The real threat, however, comes not from an alien presence, but from ordinary men willing to exploit a young boy in the pursuit of knowledge.
The book is very male-centred, which makes it a product of its time (the 1960s), but story also contains an environmental message so relevant to today’s ever-growing awareness that it makes you think the book was written in the present. It’s to John Wyndham’s credit that way back then he was so clued into how much we’re polluting the planet. Chocky is actually the very last book that Wyndham ever published, just one year before his death in 1969 (although the Wyndham Estate later published Web posthumously). I can think of no finer way to finish a life of writing than with the theme of Chocky.
The television series is also notable. I chased it up after reading the novel. It’s a very faithful adaptation, and according to an interview with series creator Anthony Read, the Wyndham Estate said that out of all the adaptations of Wyndham’s work, Chocky was the only one they were delighted with. The series spawned two sequels, Chocky’s Children and Chocky’s Challenge. I enjoyed the former; it was the perfect sequel in many ways. But by the third series, the story is clearly losing its way, stretched to the point where it contradicts the original ending.
But this is a review of the novel, and it’s excellent. Wyndham on top form.