Thursday, 21 June 2012

Review: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Book cover of Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Do you know how disconcerting it is when three different people tell you how much they disliked your current book? For some reason, Lord of the Flies seems to be one of those universally disliked books, with the odd exception. I really have to save a loving, grateful smile for Bex at An Armchair by the Sea, without whose enthusiastic ravings I might never have persevered with this wonderful, amazing book.

Plot summary - A plane crashes on a desert island and the only survivors, a group of schoolboys, assemble on the beach and wait to be rescued. By day they inhabit a land of bright fantastic birds and dark blue seas, but at night their dreams are haunted by the image of a terrifying beast. As the boys' delicate sense of order fades, so their childish dreams are transformed into something more primitive, and their behaviouur starts to take on a murderous, savage significance.

I just couldn't get into Lord of the Flies at first, but I'm not sure if that was due to an actual slow beginning in the novel or my preconceptions caused by well-meaning family members. Regardless, at first I found it incredibly hard work. Not a lot happened, other than being introduced to the characters and getting profoundly irritated with their arrogance and superiority. Piggy is clearly the most sensible and logical of the lot, but he is ignored and ridiculed even when he's clearly trying to help. Understandably he gets frustrated, and so did I. Their behaviour irritated me so much I almost couldn't bear to read it any longer.

However, by about page 85 I was completely and irretrievably hooked. There's just something about the atmosphere William Golding creates that meant I wouldn't have put the book down if the house was on fire. The island itself has a very heady, muggy aura that seems to permeate through the pages until you swear you can feel the sun soaking through your skin. Other times, the terror and panic described on the pages is so real, and the difference between these two, although written by the same author, is immense. I've never, ever read an author with such a talent for atmosphere.

The first rhythm that they became used to was the slow swing from dawn to quick dusk. They accepted the pleasures of morning, the bright sun, the whelming sea and sweet air, as time when play was good and life so full that hope was not necessary and therefore forgotten.
The physical description of the island is also wonderful - it creates a picture so vivid that your imagination barely has to work. That said, there were a few times when I struggled to understand the layout of the island. I'm not sure if Golding uses topographical terms or whether I just couldn't follow it, but various ridges, canyons and slopes seemed to pop up without me really understanding what they were doing.

The characterisation is especially clever - throughout the book, Ralph is forced to grow in ways different to the other boys. As Chief, he struggles with having to make difficult decisions and constantly has to remind the other boys to do their chores - without them, their fragile civilisation will fall apart and Ralph knows that. The change in him by the end of the book is almost tangible, and the relationships between the boys undergoes a lot of different alterations. I can't wait to reread this book knowing what I do about the characters now.
In a moment the platform was full of arguing, gesticulating shadows. To Ralph, seated, this seemed the breaking-up of sanity. Fear, beasts, no general agreement that the fire was all-important: and when one tried to get the thing straight the argument sheered off, bringing up fresh, unpleasant matter.
It's quite a gruesome book. There's violence, disturbing dreams and animal slaughter and it doesn't skimp on the details either. Still, I really do think it was necessary in this case. Nothing annoys me more that unnecessary gore, but here the entire point of the novel is the boys' descent into savagery. The 'Lord of the Flies' himself is a gross concept, but a very clever one. Again, disturbing but necessary.

For me, the message wasn't that everybody is evil deep down, it was that everybody is selfish deep down. When thrust into a situation like this one, it's human nature to think only of your own survival. Everybody goes about that in a different way, which is obvious from the behaviour of both Ralph and Jack - one is being more selfish and obstinate than the other, but ultimately they're both doing what they think is right, regardless of how it may affect other people.    

I absolutely loved Lord of the Flies, which is great as I completely wasn't expecting to. The atmosphere, the tension, the terror... it doesn't surprise me that William Golding won the Nobel Prize for literature. I can't really see the movie or stage adaptation working, but this book has shot straight up to being one of my all-time favourites. 

This book was:

2 comments:

  1. I think one of the reasons that everybody hates it is because it was a school text and teaching of school texts is all THEMES! CLEVER WRITING! THEMES THEMES MORE THEMES now write a big essay about THEMES.
    I had it as a school text but don't hate it - I definitely agree with you about the atmosphere and how you feel it on you. Ditto about how Piggy is clearly right and you want to shake the others and shout "listen to him you nincompoops"...

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  2. The idea that humanity can have a dark side is very important to the growth of any kid. If we can learn that we have these instincts and there are sometimes consequences if you follow them. Then maybe we can become better at controlling them. Its also enjoyable to read if you are the type that like being scared.
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