John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes Reviewed

 

EBC journalist Mike Watson and his wife, Phyllis, were among the first to witness the peculiar descending of fireballs from the sky. Over a period of 10 years, The Kraken Wakes follows the pair in a bleak story of uncertainty, fear and fight for survival.

 

The sci-fi novel focuses on an unidentifiable and positively feared presence residing in the dark and pressure-crushing depths of the ocean – an unattainable destination for mankind. The gradual emergence of such a mysterious threat, over three phases, is slow and provocative. Indeed, Wyndham’s ardent lack of description is a particularly powerful tool and forces readers to speculate only their deepest fears.   

 

As a sinister alien invasion unfolds, Wyndham’s clear questioning of humankind adds to an unsettling undertone.

 

Wyndham critiques many aspects of social and political behaviour. Frightfully, the book is a tangible portrayal of bickering, denialism and ineffective communication in the face of an impending threat.

 

Published in 1953, during the midst of the cold war, Wyndham’s depiction of strained international relationships is unsurprising. Tension created between
rival nations successfully serves as an exploration of international suspicions and partisan politics, which can be easily contextualised by a
21st century reader. Prolonged accusations and
the resist of characters to consider an alternative phenomenon, highlights
Wyndham’s concern that humanity is far too fragile to embrace change and the existence of a power greater then themselves.

 

The story is told from the realist perspective of an everyman narrator and his wife, who are merely observed by the reader as they observe others. Their no nonsense and wry personalities easily contrast against the calamities of other professions. When considering the era the book was written in, Phyllis’ strong female character is refreshing and unusual. She is a powerful influence and essential to critical turning points of the book, which ultimately determine the couple’s fate.

 

Although at times the storyline is slow paced, Wyndham doesn’t fail to indulge readers in several truly gripping scenes. The sea-tank attacks are horrifying and the final description of an endless ocean is evocative and heart rendering. However, readers should remain prepared for an unsatisfying conclusion and disappointing final taste.

 

The Kraken Wakes is certainly more than just entertaining apocalyptic science fiction. John Wyndham provides a timeless and thought provoking parable of humanity’s response to an inconceivable threat. Perhaps, in fact, we
should consider humanity as its very own Kraken.