Review: The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham

First off, this is nothing to do with a Kraken. Nada. So don’t expect a book full of giant squid-like creatures pulling down pirate ships into Davy Jones’ Locker. S’all I’m saying. The title is pretty much because Mr. Wyndham liked Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, called (shockingly) The Kraken Wakes. The poem contains a Kraken; the novel does not. No other connection. No, it makes no sense to me either.

It started with fireballs raining down from the sky and crashing into the oceans’ deeps. Then ships began sinking mysteriously and later ‘sea tanks’ emerged from the deeps to claim people. For journalists Mike and Phyllis Watson, what at first appears to be a curiosity becomes a global calamity. Helpless, they watch as humanity struggles to survive now that water – one of the compounds upon which life depends – is turned against them. Finally, sea levels begin their inexorable rise. The Kraken Wakes is a brilliant novel of how humankind responds to the threat of its own extinction and, ultimately, asks what we are prepared to do in order to survive.
So, we’ve established what it isn’t about. What it actually is is slightly different from the blurb. To me, it’s basically 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea from the on-land side. Mike and Phylis are journalists and the novel you’re reading is their description of the underwater menace. It’s very dry and written very formally, with a lot of technical and geographical descriptions that zoomed over my head.  I found at times I was actually skimming paragraphs to avoid getting bogged down with scientific terminology.
But while I actually likes Jules Verne’s books, I didn’t like this. It was boring, and I usually hate using that word. A huge portion of the book involves the two journalists sitting at a table reciting newspaper reports at each other and waiting for something to happen. Unfortunately, barely anything does. There seems to be no other way to convey information other than having a character read aloud from a report. There’s no sense of urgency, despite the apparent near-ending of the world. They just meander on as normal. There’s no emotion, no fear; just complete and utter apathy about everything.
 Below the thunders of the upper deep;
  Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
  His antient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
  The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
  About his shadowy sides.
Even the monsters themselves seem slightly indifferent – the narrative refers to them as ‘sea-tanks’ but I picture them as giant periscope-less submarines. Yup, the world is threatened by big metal slugs. They’re never explained properly either – not where they come from, what they want, how they’re doing what they’re doing… the ending is so rushed and so unenlightening that I actually wondered if some pages had fallen out of the library book. I still have no idea about anything that happened in The Kraken Wakes.

So no. Not a fan. I really wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t. Perhaps it’s just that it didn’t age well – it was written back in the 1950s and was hugely popular, but I could barely drag myself through it.


  1. Sophia says:

    Oh dear. I'm planning on reading my first ever John Wyndham book – Chocky – next week. This does not bode well!

  2. Hanna says:

    @Sophia – Actually, I was ranting to my Mum about this book, and she said that Chocky is the best one. Small consolation, but it's something 🙂

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