After losing his wife and daughter in a car crash the narrator, Arnold Delgrange, throws himself into the Enlightened State Project, the brainchild of the elderly philanthropist Lord Foxfield. The 'Enlightened State Project' intends to create a utopian island, free from political and religious dogma. Lord Foxfield finances the purchase of the Pacific outpost of Tanakuatua, leavingthe co-ordination of the expedition to a balanced group of individuals, though the original 'leader' Walter Tirrie soon fades in importance as the plot unfolds.
Unfortunately Tanakuatua turns out to be a poor choice for this idealistic new colony, inhabited as it is by unfriendly humans and mutant invertebrates. Published posthumously in 1979, there are subtle shades of The Chrysalids with thetheme of radioactive mutation, a clash of human cultures, and a sense of a Lost Eden. Web contains all the classic Wyndham elements, and there is a finishing twist to the tale. However it seems a touch rushed, or perhaps that is just the unusually short length. The average Wyndham novel weighs in at between two and three hundred pages, whilst this is little more than a hundred. Also we are told thatthe project does not succeed from a very early point in the story.
Reading Web for the second time - Warning contains spoilers
Having read Web several years ago, I decided to refresh my memory and re-read the novel. I remembered nothing of the narrator, not even his name, and that is probably because Arnold Delgrange, the storyteller, does not give much away about himself, or his departedfamily. Of course it seems likely that half a century ago men were not expected to open up on the subject of personal tragedy. I wrongly remembered Arnold and Camilla falling in love, but in fact, he regards her more as a surrogate daughter. Camilla herself is quite a cold, detatched character, who shows little emotion as those around her die.
One curious aspect of Web is the names given to some ofthe characters. For example the lead female, a woman-of-science, is named Doctor Camilla Cogent, which seems too obvious a name for a cognitive character. The working class character with a chip on his shoulder is dubbed Joe Shuttleshaw, which sounds almost hackneyed, and conjures up images of a gruff Monty Python-esque Yorkshireman lamenting his lot 'down't mill'. Curiously one of the incidentalcharacters in the final chapter is called Soames, also the name of the doctor encountered in the first chapter of The Day of the Triffids. I have no idea whether this is deliberate self-referencing on Wyndham's part.
The parallels with Triffids do not end there. Many of the original inhabitants of Tanakuatua believe that their woes are due to a God-sent retribution, not disimilar to that felt byMiss Beadley in Triffids. The spiders threaten the camp in much the same way as the triffids endangered Shirning Farm, with the reader left with the impression that it is only a matter of time before the enemy breaches the human defences. Additionally there is the theme of survival against nature, and an overwhelming sense of isolation. The 'Natives' also pose a great threat, but unlike Triffids,there is no Torrence-type character, in fact the party itself is generally composed of level heads. Eccentrics such as Horace Tupple, who may have turned the story into a Lord of the Flies style nightmare, alight the ship at Panama, realising the endeavour is not for them.
The first time I read Web, I felt that the ending was anti-climatic, but on reflection I admit that there wasn't much elseWyndham could do with the story once everybody other than the narrator and Camilla had been killed. Personally I felt that Web improved with re-reading and would definately recommend it to Wyndham fans. Nevertheless, I suspect that had Wyndham written this novel ten years earlier when in better health, it would have ranked with his best.
Excerpt from Web
There follows an extract from chapter...