Thursday, 14 November 2019

A Wrinkle in the Skin - John Christopher

A Wrinkle in the Skin, A Terrible Title, is a 1965 disaster novel by John Christopher (Sam Youd), creator of the Tripods and author of the classic The Death of Grass.

Christopher has enjoyed something of a revival since his death in 2012. He is regarded as a prophet of ecological disasrer, which is certainly the case with The Death of Grass and The World in Winter. A Wrinkle in the Skin is certainly global but the disaster is not man-made. Vast earthquakes have reshaped the Earth, to the extent that the English Channel has dried up. The tidal wave that accompanied the quakes has wiped away coastal cities like Southampton and Bournemouth.

Our hero, Matthew Cotter, grows tomatoes on Guernsey. The quake makes a mess of his glasshouses but he is unscathed. He wanders about the island and finds others who have survived. They are very few, but they group together, find food and start to make a sort of life. Matthew, however, is determined to find his daughter Jane who he knows spent the night of the apocalypse in East Sussex. So he sets out to walk there, there being no deep water to stop him., accompanied by the orphaned boy Billy.

This is unfortunate - mature man and immature child on a mission of discovery has become a cliche of post-apocalyptic fiction (The Road, for example). To be fair, Christopher wrote in 1965 and I'm pretty sure it wasn't a cliche back then. So they meet a mad king (actually a sailor, the solitary survivor on an oil tanker stranded on the dry bottom of the Channel, desperately trying to keep everything literally shipshape. They meet a Preacher, a visionary of the apocalypse who foresees the Risen Christ approaching from the East. And they meet other groups, good and bad and extremely bad. It's all a bit predictable - except that I liked the ambition of making the ship a supertanker, I liked that the religious crazy was a hospitable host, and I really liked April, the sole female character who is fully characterised. There is a conversation between April and Cotter which is both shocking and moving - which inspires Matthew to pursue his quest to the bitter end (another excellent twist) and the scales to finally fall from his eyes.

A good book, then, not as significant as some of Christopher's others but effective and skillfully done.

1 comment:

  1. I loved John Christopher as a child and adored The Tripods and Empty World - a true exponent of adolescent fantasy.