Here is another recommendation / review of an easy to find audio books. Today we approach a heavy plant crossing because it’s:
THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS written by John Wyndham and read by Robert Powell.
Day of the Triffids has been my most favourite book to read since I was a teenager. We studied an excerpt in English lit class one day, so when I saw the audio book on the shelves of my local library a few weeks later I was sure I’d like it. It helped that it was read by Robert Powell because I knew him from a comedy programme he starred in at the time with comedian Jasper Carrot. Does anyone remember The Detectives?
This is an abridged reading, about two and a half hours long, so that’s a lot of book cut out. Mostly character backgrounds, revealing dialogue and the entire chapters set in Brighton. The abridgment is a very neat job but what is left is a bit of a bastardization of the original, amounting to little more than a pulp thriller. But as a teenager this audio book was my way into the more complex story told in the book, my way in to Wyndham’s other books, and my way into early twentieth century science fiction. Despite many elements of the book being absent, I still return to this audio, and that’s chiefly because Powell is such a magnificent reader.
He never puts on voices. Often he changes the inflection, tone and volume of his speech but he doesn’t really do voices. But if my voice was half as commanding and easy on the ear as his, I wouldn’t bother either. This is in no way detrimental. Powell’s voice is undeniably the audio book's biggest virtue, second only to the first rate tale.
Most people are familiar with this tale of walking plants running amok in the aftermath of a meteorological light show that leaves 90% of the world’s population blinded. It’s a fairly pedestrian post-apocalyptic fare to a modern audience but the Triffids make it immediately different because the walking plants, chained and cowed see how weakened humankind has become and break free from the Triffid farms. The plight and abuse the plants suffer as they’re harvested for their oil is, predictably, skipped over here. In fact most if not all films and TV series to have adapted the book have mainly failed, in my reckoning because the book is dense with detail and nuance, and most writers / producers / directors just want to get straight to the walking plants attacking humans bits, because that’s what the public perception is of this story. Unfortunately, as good as this audio is, it doesn’t entirely eschew those sensationalist urges. But its saving grace is Powell.
One of the things I’ve always liked about John Wyndham is the deceptive simplicity of his style. Never one for flowery prose, his delivery is always stark and matter-of-fact, a real economy of words. He was either supremely disciplined or keen to press on with the plot. Perhaps a little of both, I don’t know but the un-showy prose suits Powell’s gentlemanly narration. When he reads Wyndham’s words they gain new, immediate efficacy. When he speaks the dialogue of the characters he gets each one of them. Whatever is lacking due to the abridgment is compensated by the reader’s firm grip on the text.
I do think John Wyndham was also a bit of a softie. His stories very often have an unyielding sentimentality at their core and whilst this can occasionally become a little trite, it is never made so here. Again, at risk of banging relentlessly on the same worn drum, it’s down to Powell who allows his voice to crack and falter when things get emotional.
Wyndham’s style is seldom replicated in prose, especially almost a century hence, but the heart of his characters always beats loud and even though you sense they share his post-colonial stoicism, he’s never fearless about sharing the emotion of his characters when those same hearts quicken, break or change. Again, Powell gets this. He was either familiar with the text before he entered the recording booth or he simply has a natural affinity with it. Either way, Wyndham suits Powell, and vice versa.
As an introduction to the far more satisfying read of the book, this for me is by far the most successful attempt at an adaptation of Day of the Triffids – in any medium. It’s a must for teenagers, possibly with a short attention span and if you are already familiar with the book, Robert Powell adds a new dimension and undoubtedly makes this a very worthwhile and satisfying audiobook.
This can only be found on YouTube by typing “Triffids / Wyndham” into the search
Originally released in the early 80’s by Sounds for Pleasure, there is no digital version of this audiobook around in print but can be found by searching onYouTube.
As usual this review is copyright of Martin Gregory.