Chocky by John Wyndham (1968) 154 p.
Chocky was the last novel John Wyndham wrote before his death (although a semi-finished one called Web was published posthumously) and for some reason I never read it while I was in high school – although I remember flicking through a copy at the library and not being intrigued enough to properly read it, just as I wasn’t intrigued by The Trouble With Lichen. I suppose it’s because unlike his classic big four novels, neither of these deals with an apocalypse, a post-apocalyptic setting, or (in the case of The Midwich Cuckoos) an apocalypse averted. I really am ashamed of my teenage self, because Chocky is as imaginative and captivating as any of Wyndham’s better-known works.
Matthew Gore is an ordinary eleven-year-old schoolboy in the London suburbs whose parents become somewhat concerned when he develops an imaginary friend named Chocky, carrying on vocal arguments with a voice that only he can hear. Not only is he a bit too old for an imaginary friend, but Chocky appears to be teaching him some advanced scientific and mathematical concepts, and asks strange questions of her own. Matthew begins to draw local landscapes with spindly, distorted figures, as if seen from another viewpoint. To a science fiction reader it’s obvious from the first chapter or so that Matthew has developed a telepathic link with an alien intelligence, but Chocky is nevertheless an eerie and unsettling novel, narrated from the point of view of Matthew’s concerned father.
As in any Wyndham novel, there’s a wise character who cottons on to what’s happening before anyone else does. And as in any Wyndham novel, it also feels quite dated, although it’s fortunately not as unwittingly sexist as The Midwich Cuckoos; though Chocky is narrated by Matthew’s father, both his parents have an equal footing in responding to the issue (even if the mother is often portrayed as unreasonable). But as I mentioned in my review of The Midwich Cuckoos, it’s hard to fault Wyndham for being a product of his age. Brian Aldiss, writing the introduction to this 2010 Penguin edition, describes it as “an antique charm.”
In any case, this is where the similarities with his previous books end. As I said earlier, Chocky is not an apocalyptic novel, and it also seems to reject Wyndham’s thesis (presented to a greater or lesser degree in all four of his most famous novels) that two foreign intelligences will inevitably fight to the death. Readers of Wyndham’s previous novels will certainly feel a bit of frisson when Chocky asks Matthew (more than once) exactly where Earth is, and comments that it’s a lot nicer than where she’s from. I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice to say that Chocky is one of Wyndham’s more optimistic stories. The final line in the book – which is actually an image – is surprisingly and deeply affecting, and works on multiple levels. Chocky is an excellent novella, which is perhaps not as great as Wyndham’s more well-known novels – but then, that’s a high bar to set. Essential reading for any fans of science fiction.