The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

The Midwich Cuckoos The Midwich Cuckoos begins as our narrator, Richard Gayford, and his wife, Janet, attempt to return to their home in the quiet English village of Midwich after a trip to London to celebrate Richard’s birthday. As they approach the village they discover that the road has been closed by the police; something very strange is happening in Midwich, a place where, as Richard tells us, things just did not happen. That night, Monday 26th September, everyone within the boundaries of Midwich has fallen asleep and anyone who tries to enter the village also loses consciousness.

The next day this phenomenon, which becomes known as the ‘Dayout’, disappears as suddenly as it arrived – the invisible barrier is lifted and people begin to wake up. At first it seems that most of the villagers have been completely unharmed by the ‘Dayout’, but a few months later they make a shocking discovery. Something did happen during their twenty-four hours of unconsciousness and it’s going to have a big effect on the lives of everyone in Midwich.

I’ve decided to end my summary of the plot here rather than tell you exactly what happened to the people of Midwich. I’m sure some of you will already know (maybe you’ve seen the film based on the book, Village of the Damned, or maybe the title of the book and the cover of my old Penguin edition pictured here have given you some clues) but I don’t really want to spoil things for anyone new to the story so I won’t go into any more details. All I will say is that I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end!

I don’t often choose to read science fiction (looking back through my blog archives I can only see five or six that I’ve read since 2009) and I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but The Midwich Cuckoos was probably the perfect type of science fiction for me – instead of being filled with too much action or violence, it’s a subtle, thought provoking portrayal of a small, seemingly normal community trying to cope with something that is threatening their way of life. I think it was the ordinariness of the setting that made the story so effective; this, combined with Wyndham’s thoughtful, undramatic writing style, made it possible to almost believe in what happened in Midwich, while also creating quite an eerie atmosphere.

The only problem I had with this book was that I didn’t feel any connection with the characters. The narrator himself doesn’t have a big part to play and is actually absent from the village for long periods of time, leaving large portions of the story to be told through second-hand accounts, particularly through the philosophical musings of one of the Midwich residents, Gordon Zellaby. It was also disappointing that despite the women of Midwich having such an important role in the story, we never really get to know any of them and they are rarely given a chance to participate in any of the discussions or decisions being made by the men. But although there were a few aspects of the book that I thought could have been better, I did love my first John Wyndham book and am now wondering which one I should read next.

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12 responses

  1. Ah, this sounds really good! I’ve never read any Wyndham (didn’t he write The Day of the Triffids as well, if I remember correctly?) and I suppose I too had always been put off by the slightly too sci-fi aura that floated round his books. But this really does sound like something I’d enjoy; it sounds as if it has the same kind of subtle, creeping uncertainty that I liked so much in The Stepford Wives. Onto the To Read list it goes. Thanks Helen!

    1. Yes, this is the same author who wrote The Day of the Triffids and I’m thinking of making that the next Wyndham book I read. I think you might enjoy this one – if you do read it I’ll be interested to know what you think of it.

  2. The Midwich Cuckoos = Village of the Damned?! Interesting! I’m in a sci-fi mood lately and have been looking at the Margaret Atwoods in my TBR. This might also be an option.

    1. Yes, I haven’t actually seen Village of the Damned, but it’s supposed to be very faithful to the book, though under a different name. And thanks for reminding me about Margaret Atwood. I’ve been meaning to read more of her books since I read The Handmaid’s Tale last year, but haven’t got round to it yet.

  3. I like the summary (and the little I’m guessing from what you’ve said), and am kind of glad to hear it’s sci fi than horror! The style of writing sounds out of place but makes the book more appealing. Quite the freaky cover!

    1. I really liked his writing style, although it wasn’t quite what I had expected. And it’s definitely not horror – just a bit unsettling and disturbing!

  4. I remember loving The Day of the Triffids when I was in high school but, like you, I don’t read much science fiction now. This sounds like a perfect book to try to re-expand my horizons!

    1. Yes, I think this book would be a great choice for people who don’t read much science fiction. I used to read a lot more of it than I do now and am not sure why or when I stopped. I must read The Day of the Triffids soon!

  5. I have read and can recommend The Day of the Triffids :-)

    1. I can’t wait to read The Day of the Triffids. Thanks for recommending it!

  6. I liked this a lot too but had the same reservations you did, especially regarding the characterization of the women. My favorite Wyndham, of the three I’ve read, is The Chrysalids.

    1. I thought it was disappointing that in a book where the role of women is so important, we never really get a woman’s point of view. I’ll look forward to reading The Chrysalids!

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