Golding, William (Vol. 3)
Golding, William 1911–
Golding is a talented and original major British novelist whose best known works—Lord of the Flies, The Inheritors, and The Spire—reflect his interest in anthropology and psychoanalysis. See also William Golding Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 8, 10, 17, 27.
Golding's novels are rigged. All thesis novels are rigged. In the great ones the drama escapes from the cage of the rigging or is acted out on it as on a skeleton stage set. Golding's thesis requires more rigging than most and it must by definition be escape-proof and collapsing….
Lord of the Flies is simply a carelessly documented book. Its opposite number, Swiss Family Robinson, is ridiculously impossible, with flora, fauna and geology from the ends of the earth, all dumped on one tiny island, but we forgive the improbability because the boa constrictor really seems to eat the mule and if polar bears had eaten breadfruit we would have believed it…. Lord of the Flies functions in a minimal ecology, but even so, and indefinite as it is, it is wrong. It's the wrong rock for such an island and the wrong vegetation. The boys never come alive as real boys. They are simply the projected annoyances of a disgruntled English schoolmaster. At the end of the book, you are not convinced of the obliterative effects of original sin; you just feel that Mr. Golding should get a better job….
Free Fall should be the best of Golding's novels. The people are more vividly drawn, motives are more complex. There are dramatic rather than melodramatic tensions. The thesis again is Golding's obsession, original sin, but in this case the story is of the struggle to transcend it. Yet again it is all hallucinatory. Furthermore, since the characters seem at first not presented purely as vehicles of the thesis, it is possible to judge them as people. So judging, it is apparent that there's something nasty about all of Golding's people; not evil, just nasty. One of the things wrong with them is a kind of special muzziness that he is able to give to all of his characterizations—or unable not to give. They are uncleanly seen. If you are going to undertake this journey, you should never forget that the clarity of Dante's vision is never impeached by the confusions of either the damned or the undamned….
The Spire is the most exasperating of all these books. Here the anachronism is breathtaking. This is not the Middle Ages, and it is certainly not Salisbury Cathedral. It is certainly William Golding. The Bad Rover Boys on a Desert Island, The Bad Rover Boys at the End of the Ice Age acquire a sequel—The Bad Rover Boys in the Age of Faith Build a Cathedral. Again, Mr. Golding judges human beings, past or present, far or near, the way a British school master who doesn't like teaching in a provincial town regards his charges. This is a symbolic tale of the upwardly mobile with a vengeance. The thesis is they are snotty-nosed little boys. Maybe they are; they seem to enjoy being told they are.
What depressed me most was that Mr. Golding doesn't even like that pretty church, perhaps because it is so perfect an expression of style. He shouldn't only get another job; he should move. Maybe he has. He's sold enough books to live on the Riviera where it's stylish.
Kenneth Rexroth, "William Golding: Unoriginal Sin," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1965 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), May, 1965, pp. 96-8.
Since Lord of the Flies Mr. Golding's fiction has been a remarkable labor of craft, the meanings carefully adjusted, word by word. This is not to imply that the books are propelled by sheer force of will in the absence of imagination. But the craft, so hard to learn, has been acquired at the cost of freedom and nonchalance. There is some evidence, especially in Free Fall and Pincher Martin , that Mr. Golding, fabulous artificer, would like nothing better than to write a loose baggy monster of a novel, possessed of life to the degree of irrelevance. Or at least...
(The entire section is 6,028 words.)