A Wrinkle in the Skin by John Christopher

Hodder and Stoughton, 1965, 218 p.

A Wrinkle in the Skin cover

John Christopher is perhaps best remembered for his Tripods series of books for young adults but also contributed to the British sub-genre of “cosy catatstrophe” most mined by the other John (Wyndham.) A Wrinkle in the Skin falls firmly into the catastrophe category as a series of giant earthquakes befalls the world. (From a modern perspective Christopher’s description of the cause of earthquakes was obviously written before the theory of plate tectonics was fully established.)

Matthew Cotter is a widower living in Guernsey when the earthquakes hit. After living through the ’quakes, his aim is to try to find his daughter who was living somewhere in England before the catastrophe. He first joins a small group of survivors one of whom acts as a kind of petty king intent on keeping the best female to himself to ensure any sons that ensue are recognized as his and regards Cotter (whose relative lack of interest in the opposite sex was established in the short pre-disaster chapter) as his right hand man. It is here perhaps that the sexual attitudes of the time A Wrinkle in the Skin was written (of time immemorial?) are most obvious as a woman who is a willing sexual partner for most of the others is referred to in the text in crudely dismissive terms.

Soon Cotter escapes to strike out on his own but is followed by a pre-pubescent boy whom he had earlier managed to rescue from a damaged building and for whom he now has to take responsibility. The English Channel has disappeared in the vast upheaval and they can walk across the old sea bed. During this sojourn they come upon a more or less intact oil tanker deposited on the new land, inhabited by a captain who has gone slightly mad.

Making it to England they hit upon a group who recognize them as non-threatening and take them in. The group seeks to hide both themselves and their stash from bands of marauders but of course can not always be successful. One such raid takes place when Cotter and many of the others are away from the camp on a food search. They arrive back in time to prevent the attackers from unearthing the food and Cotter uses a shotgun to drive them off, wounded or not. However, he later learns from one of the women of the new accommodation she has had to make to those gangs of men who chance upon her and the contempt in which she holds all men for their appetites. In a lawless, almost hopeless environment I suppose this is the way it would be.

As I recall the author’s The Death of Grass was somewhat similar in its treatment of the post-apocalyptic scenario.

Pedant’s corner:- “‘You know how to get here?’” (context suggests there rather than here,) Skiopos’ (Skiopos’s,) dark-aureoled (they weren’t aureoles, but areolas,) “he cut if off” (he cut it off.)

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