The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

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Body consuming spores arrive in a suburban West Coast town, in this piece of speculative fiction from 1955. Two residents, ex-lovers, seek to defy them and to survive. Body Snatchers is a fast paced and entertaining novel, about fear and paranoia.

Finney is interested by fear and how it plays with our perceptions, and this is the primary focus of the novel. At one point, the educated characters of body and mind – a doctor, a psychologist, and a writer – try to rationalise the horrifying previous events. Here, intriguing parallels are drawn between their current predicament and unresolved episodes of mass hysteria in real life: The Salem Witch Trials, The Mattoon Gas Maniac, the dancing sickness in medieval Europe, and flying saucers. We see that fear can produce delusions that deceive us. However, when it is clear that their fears are not unfounded, there is a suggestion that wider accounts of strange phenomenon could have validity. It is this tension of the real and unreal, surrounded by fear, which gives the book the tone of a psychological thriller, particularly in the first half.

Elsewhere, the minor and recurring threads include a romantic subplot between the man and woman protagonist. This romance, between divorcees, adds a light texture during quieter moments. It is neither unwelcome or overwrought. There is also the presentation of the aliens, which raises explicit questions by their comparison with ourselves – Finney inquires if we alike to them, or different, and how? In the end, it appears we share the aliens’ will to survive, but we are distinguished by our passions, which make us uniquely human. The final presentation of the alien takeover also carries heavy suggestions of fascism by their images of surveillance, censorship, and passive-minded conformity.

Overall, this is to be recommended for those seeking something in the sci-fi and psychological horror genre. It is as written in a first person style that is conversational, clear and taut, so it is also a fast-paced read.

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