Chocky, by John Wyndham, didn’t terrify me the way The Day of the Triffids did, but the story still left me feeling uneasy.
Chocky is the imaginary friend of eleven-year old Matthew Gore. The story is told in the first person by Matthew’s father David, who is a very understanding man when it comes to Matthew’s imaginary friend, although he isn’t all that understanding, as he says he doesn’t understand women, and apparently, nobody does, “Least of all themselves.” David and his wife, Mary, are also far more critical of their daughter, Polly, who gets the blame for quarrelling with her brother, than they are of Matthew, who, in my opinion, must have been doing half of the quarrelling. Mary’s character is the type who says of herself, “I’m sorry to be so silly.” Maybe John Wyndham had issues with his own wife or sister.
Polly was actually the first one in the Gore family to have an imaginary friend. Polly’s was called Piff, and, as imaginary friend’s go, was not very unusual, more the type who Polly could put the blame onto when she did something naughty. When Polly made some real friends Piff was forgotten.
Eleven year old boys don’t usually have imaginary friends. When they first heard their adopted son Matthew talking to himself, separately of each other, David and Mary were both struck by the unusual subject matter of the conversations they overheard, where Matthew was seemingly explaining our natural world, time on earth and eventually, limited intelligence in animals to Chocky.
There is a conversation in the book about limited intelligence which I found very interesting, (possibly because I strongly suspect my own is limited). The subject arose when Matthew and his father were walking through a paddock, and Matthew asked why cows stop learning and understanding. The example he used was that cows are able to learn and remember milking time, because they make their way between the dairy and the paddock, but they never open the gate to get in or out of the paddock. If John Wyndham had not put that into Chocky, the idea of limited intelligence would never have entered my mind, (see? I told you mine was limited).
Anyway, Mary in particuar became more and more worried about Matthew’s mental health and eventually had David set up an informal meeting with a doctor who, after spending time with Matthew, horrified Mary by saying that Chocky was real, and worse, that Matthew was possessed by her/him. (Chocky’s gender is difficult to understand).
Chocky does go on to possess Matthew, although by his own choice and on quite a few occasions. While drawing, Matthew allowed Chocky to take over his brain, which allowed Matthew to create amazing works of art. The art was recognised as being brilliant, but bizarre by everyone who sees them, including Matthew’s art teacher. On another occasion, when Matthew and Polly were knocked into a tidal river in a freak accident, Chocky helped Matthew to rescue himself and Polly, even though Matthew had never been able to swim. The media picked up the story of the amazing rescue and turned Matthew into a hero, although he was such a fair and honest little fellow that taking credit for something Chocky did made him unhappy.
The dialogue in Chocky is terrific and the characters reveal themselves perfectly through their conversations. For example, Matthew told his mother, “I was fought at,” when she chided him for being in a fight, and the sarcasm of Matthew’s physics teacher, “no that we have established that nothing in the universe – with the possible exception of Matthew Gore’s mind – can exceed the speed of light, let us return to our lesson,” gave me a mental image of each character’s personality, strengths and weaknesses. Truly, I could hear their voices in my head while I was reading. (Please don’t say that is the first sign…)
Chocky is a surprising story which I highly recommend to those who enjoy science fiction.