“In Oppley they’re smart, and in Stouch they’re smarmy, but Midwich folk are just plain barmy.”
I never saw the original “Village of the Damned” film from 1960, although I did see John Carpenter’s rather forgettable remake in 1995, but there’s something about the story of mysterious pregnancies and unearthly children that I think is both chilling and compelling. So when I found a used copy of the novel on which those films were based, John Wyndham’s THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS (this copy originally belonging to one Fred Kiesche of Kinnelon, NJ, according to the name and address scrawled in cursive on the inside cover), I picked it up immediately. Alas, what I found between the pages was not quite what I wanted. (Perhaps young Mr. Kiesche didn’t either, and that’s why he gave up the book?)
For a novel of science-fiction suspense, the tone of THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS is surprisingly droll and very, very British, which I found to be an enjoyable and pleasant surprise. However, the novel as a whole is extremely dry. Very little happens on the page. Mostly we get characters discussing events of interest that occurred between chapters, and then sharing their theories on why those events happened and what they mean. This makes the novel rather slow and snoozy for readers like myself who are more accustomed to the pace and structure of modern genre fiction.
The only drawback to the novel’s droll, British tone is that very little of it feels urgent. There’s plenty of time for long drives, walks in gardens, harrumphing over brandy, and enjoying nice meals at friends’ houses while discussing what to do about the lost day when everyone in the village went suddenly unconscious, or the mysterious pregnancies that affected all the female villagers, or the strange, identical children who seem to be developing much too quickly, or how those same children may have telepathically driven villagers mad or forced them to kill themselves. The children themselves, when we see them, are never presented as creepily as I thought they ought to be. They love sweets, enjoy school, and are very chatty!
But I’m hesitant to disparage a book just because it’s not what I wanted it to be. I did like it, and I still think there’s a really great idea at the heart of the novel, but the manner in which Wyndham tells the story just didn’t work for me.