Category: William Golding

book review – The Spire – William Golding


William Golding is one of those authors who ends up as a staple on English exam syllabuses because he is almost poetic in his use of imagery and symbolism. That means of course that you have to invest some concentration to get the point of what he is trying to say and to take the full ramifications of his sometimes oblique references to significant events.

The result can often be disappointing for your casual, non exam preparing reader, who doesn’t sit in a classroom going through it line by line working out that the colour red might stand not only for love but danger. The crux of the story is around the belief held by Jocelin, the dean of the cathedral that the structure can support a spire. He gets the funding from a rich aunt who then makes demands on him that he is unwilling to fulfil. But he is also deaf against the remonstrations of the builders and the master builder Roger Mason that the structure cannot support a spire. The lack of foundations are seen by Jocelin as a test of faith and by the builder as a challenge to sanity.

But added to that conflict there is a challenge for Jocelin in fighting his attraction to Goody Pangall, the wife of a much mocked servant who helps clean the cathedral. When he discovers an affair between the red haired woman and Mason he is torn not just by anger and grief but also by jealousy. He has failed to protect the servant, kept adultery out of the cathedral and not been able to reach or teach any of the parties involved.

The stress here is on whet do you believe. In Fire Down Below there is a similar argument about the prospect of a fire developing in the hold of a ship. It becomes a question of faith and divides the ship’s crew.

Here Jocelin badgers and protests until the end when the spire is built. But he loses his mind, position and faith as things unravel. Goody dies in childbirth losing her life as well as mason’s baby. that drives the master builder to drink and as the church authorities move to dismiss Jocelin there appear to be no winners in the battle of the spire. As he breathes his last Jocelin is told the spire is still standing but that it is expected to fall any day and cause damage to the building. Will it fall? That of course is the sort of question of faith that has driven the dean to madness.

book review – The Spire – William Golding


William Golding is one of those authors who ends up as a staple on English exam syllabuses because he is almost poetic in his use of imagery and symbolism. That means of course that you have to invest some concentration to get the point of what he is trying to say and to take the full ramifications of his sometimes oblique references to significant events.

The result can often be disappointing for your casual, non exam preparing reader, who doesn’t sit in a classroom going through it line by line working out that the colour red might stand not only for love but danger. The crux of the story is around the belief held by Jocelin, the dean of the cathedral that the structure can support a spire. He gets the funding from a rich aunt who then makes demands on him that he is unwilling to fulfil. But he is also deaf against the remonstrations of the builders and the master builder Roger Mason that the structure cannot support a spire. The lack of foundations are seen by Jocelin as a test of faith and by the builder as a challenge to sanity.

But added to that conflict there is a challenge for Jocelin in fighting his attraction to Goody Pangall, the wife of a much mocked servant who helps clean the cathedral. When he discovers an affair between the red haired woman and Mason he is torn not just by anger and grief but also by jealousy. He has failed to protect the servant, kept adultery out of the cathedral and not been able to reach or teach any of the parties involved.

The stress here is on whet do you believe. In Fire Down Below there is a similar argument about the prospect of a fire developing in the hold of a ship. It becomes a question of faith and divides the ship’s crew.

Here Jocelin badgers and protests until the end when the spire is built. But he loses his mind, position and faith as things unravel. Goody dies in childbirth losing her life as well as mason’s baby. that drives the master builder to drink and as the church authorities move to dismiss Jocelin there appear to be no winners in the battle of the spire. As he breathes his last Jocelin is told the spire is still standing but that it is expected to fall any day and cause damage to the building. Will it fall? That of course is the sort of question of faith that has driven the dean to madness.

The Spire – post III

Tormented by his failure to understand the damage caused by his determination to build the spire Jocelin is facing the clerical version of being struck off. He fails to understand just how much he has lost the support of the local community, the builders and his own colleagues.

Even when he is faced with a few home truths he fails to understand his capacity for causing insult and damage and if he wasn’t dying you suspect he would have had a much harder time of it.

In the end it almost become irrelevant if the spire stands or falls because it has destroyed several lives. Jocelin’s back problems are a metaphor for the destruction of the body of his church as well as himself. He gives everything to make his vision come to life but completely misunderstands the danger of becoming enclosed ‘in a tent’ of his own vision.

Although the symbolism, with swirling devils and angels, blossom and kingfishers, becomes slightly too much it does add to the pace and the conclusion. Even at the very end he remains totally misunderstood.

A review will come soon…

The Spire – post II

At times with the symbolism swirling round the dean’s head with his angel versus demon battle and visions of those he has let down it is hard to make out quite what is going on.

As the Spire starts to reach its final stages of being built Dean Jocelin loses all sense of perspective and just hangs out with the builders at the top of the ladders above the church, which most of the time lies idle.

But as the winds come and the autumn rains mount a challenge to the spire that it is certain to fail the world below in the literal sense of on the ground catches up with Jocelin. He loses the abiliuty to parley and get through to the master builder. He loses the ability to save Pagnall’s wife and marriage and he starts to lose the ability to keep the church functioning.

The net result is that as he becomes fixated on the final days of building he is a very small step from being a mad man.

if and when the spire comes down quite what it will do for the dean, who has pinned everything on it’s construction is hard to guess.

Final chunk Monday…

The Spire – post I

When you are finding reading difficult and your pace is not quite where you would like it to be then a quick book can do wonders. What I mean by that is not necessarily a novella but a book that is accessible and quick to get through.

The Spire is fitting the bill, although I could not have predicted that before starting it. The story of a Dean determined to build a spire on a cathedral that doesn’t have the foundations is a tragedy waiting to happen. For the Dean it is a question of faith but others, including his colleagues, see it as folly.

Written in the Golding style – which calls on the reader to work hard filling in blanks and putting half stories together – this Is building into not just a question of faith but also about the arrogance of a single man. The idea that the deal breaker, the foundations holding, is beneath and largely unseen reminds you if Fire Down Below. those worried in that book about the fire destroying the ship were proved right. The doubters just might be right again this time..

book review: Pincher Martin


The one word that keeps coming back when you think of this book is bubbles. Not the large things children blow around the garden but the small numerous bubbles that float to the surface as someone struggles for life in the water. As this is almost like a stream of consciousness the idea of bubbles floating like ideas up to the water is one the seems apt.

This novel by William Golding is the sort of thing that you would be handed as part of your coursework if you were studying English Lit. The reason is not just because it is a great work of imagination but it also has that sense of being written in the 60s as almost perfect fodder for polytechnic teachers.

The story centres on a single person – Christopher Martin – as he struggles to survive after his boat is sunk by a U-boat torpedo. The Second World War is in full flow and as he struggles for life the last thing he can remember is falling into the water and kicking his sea boots off. He manages to get washed to a rock and clamber onto it and then it becomes a battle to survive and keep morale hoping for rescue.

The rock is described in detail and named by the narrator to make it easier for the reader to remember and the memories of pre-war life as well as the moments before the sinking come back in waves. Also on board the ship was an old acquaintance who has married the girl that he loved. There is a sense that he has wronged people in his life.

There is also a sense that the trial on the rock island, where he sustains himself by drinking trapped rain water and sea life, is somehow something he has tempted. This sense increases during a storm when Martin seems to lose his mind and fear that supernatural powers are coming for him.

Presumably he could have stayed on the rock for quite a while longer going mad or possibly being rescued. But the twist comes with the shifting of the scene to a dead body being washed up on a remote island like the Shetlands where there are a couple of locals discussing the body. One comments that his death would have been quick because he didn’t even have time to kick off his sea boots.

What then is the book about if Martin has been dead all along? Is it some sort of religious allegory about purgatory and the fact that given the chance to consider a life most of us would find ourselves guilty of cruelty? Alternatively is it some sort of dream of what could have been raising the question of whether or not it was better to die quickly and relatively painlessly instead of living in the hope of being rescued and finally losing your mind?

Of course the essays that have been written on those questions are probably legion. I personally like to think that it is a case of the former, bearing in mind my recollection of Lord of the Flies, with Christopher Martin showing that in the space and forced confinement of being shipwrecked we all have to face our demons, which are lying in us all.

book review: Pincher Martin


The one word that keeps coming back when you think of this book is bubbles. Not the large things children blow around the garden but the small numerous bubbles that float to the surface as someone struggles for life in the water. As this is almost like a stream of consciousness the idea of bubbles floating like ideas up to the water is one the seems apt.

This novel by William Golding is the sort of thing that you would be handed as part of your coursework if you were studying English Lit. The reason is not just because it is a great work of imagination but it also has that sense of being written in the 60s as almost perfect fodder for polytechnic teachers.

The story centres on a single person – Christopher Martin – as he struggles to survive after his boat is sunk by a U-boat torpedo. The Second World War is in full flow and as he struggles for life the last thing he can remember is falling into the water and kicking his sea boots off. He manages to get washed to a rock and clamber onto it and then it becomes a battle to survive and keep morale hoping for rescue.

The rock is described in detail and named by the narrator to make it easier for the reader to remember and the memories of pre-war life as well as the moments before the sinking come back in waves. Also on board the ship was an old acquaintance who has married the girl that he loved. There is a sense that he has wronged people in his life.

There is also a sense that the trial on the rock island, where he sustains himself by drinking trapped rain water and sea life, is somehow something he has tempted. This sense increases during a storm when Martin seems to lose his mind and fear that supernatural powers are coming for him.

Presumably he could have stayed on the rock for quite a while longer going mad or possibly being rescued. But the twist comes with the shifting of the scene to a dead body being washed up on a remote island like the Shetlands where there are a couple of locals discussing the body. One comments that his death would have been quick because he didn’t even have time to kick off his sea boots.

What then is the book about if Martin has been dead all along? Is it some sort of religious allegory about purgatory and the fact that given the chance to consider a life most of us would find ourselves guilty of cruelty? Alternatively is it some sort of dream of what could have been raising the question of whether or not it was better to die quickly and relatively painlessly instead of living in the hope of being rescued and finally losing your mind?

Of course the essays that have been written on those questions are probably legion. I personally like to think that it is a case of the former, bearing in mind my recollection of Lord of the Flies, with Christopher Martin showing that in the space and forced confinement of being shipwrecked we all have to face our demons, which are lying in us all.

Pincher Martin – post IV

It was only at the very end of the book, and I’m not going to give away the ending, that you sat up and thought about what Golding had done. For a few moments on the train on the way to work I just looked out of the window and pulled the final scenes together.

Golding left you wondering whether or not the lucky ones where those that die in war rather than limp on waiting to be rescued and also about the human costs of war. But that comes in a way as a relief because having expressed the desire the other day to see what happens to the stranded survivor you almost wish you could turn away your eyes as he goes slowly but very surely mad. The turning point seems to be a change in the weather with a thunder storm turning his world into a dark and lightning streaked hell. The wind also plays a part pushing him into the sea with such a thud he is convinced for a while somebody hit him.

But as the end nears the ghosts of the past become stronger and the hallucinations more real.

Golding does something clever with the point of view at this point and splitting Martin into mind and body he takes up the story clearly out of the body turning Martin into something of a third person although still connected via the mouth between mind and body.

Close to the end you feel that this has been as tortuous to read as it has been to live for Martin but the twist at the end and the thoughts it leaves you with were worth reading for.

A review will follow soon…

Pincher Martin – post III

One of the main aims of writing is to paint a picture through words that is so believable the reader is lost in that world and moment. Golding manages to put you on the rock with the shipwreck survivor Christopher Martin.

Although of course you want to see if he will be rescued you are half tempted by the prospect of him being left there because that would take the writing to a challenging and darker place.

Through flashbacks you get the picture of a young actor who seems to have a series of spurned relationships before he joined the navy to go and fight for his country. But despite the experience on the rock there has not yet been an indication that if he gets back to normal life he might lead it differently.

The other challenge for the reader is the style where hints and not just a couple of failed female relationships but also one with a young boy are mentioned but never really drawn out in great detail.

Maybe the past will become clearer as the pages and the chance of rescue start to run out? More tomorrow…

Pincher Martin – post II

I remember reading Golding as a schoolboy and his style is not the easiest and this reminds me of struggling with homework. Not sure what I was meant to be learning reading this sort of stuff but as an adult it is still a test of endurance.

The struggle that the survivor has to find food and water and plan a rescue attempt on his rocky outcrop is being written in what feels like real time.

The battle to survive is mixed in with memories fleshing out the characters recent history and background. His drafting into the navy and his pre-war relationship with shipmate Nathaniel is also given more context with the two of them being connected someway, possibly through the acting field that the main character is involved in.

More tomorrow…