Men at Sea

Robert Taubman

  • Rites of Passage by William Golding
    Faber, 278 pp, £5.95, October 1980, ISBN 0 571 11639 6

William Golding’s working material, the stuff he lights upon and makes his novels out of – and which he regularly proceeds to subvert or transform to his purpose, introducing levels of meaning unsuspected in the raw stuff – never ceases to retain its importance for these novels. Coral Island, we all know, provided the working material for Lord of the Flies; and if Mr Golding’s purpose was to subvert a favourite myth about English boyhood, he nevertheless chose a worthy myth – one we can still half assent to while half persuaded by the black, reductive alternative. Frank Kermode, while studying the mythopoeic patterns of The Spire, is surely right about the importance for that novel of a particular place, Salisbury, and a particular trade: ‘I don’t know exactly where he got the facts about the mason’s craft, however, and I should like to.’ It is Trollope – substantial, circumstantial Trollope – who counters the symbolism and the hurtful recollections of the transient 1930s in The Pyramid.

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