Frank Kermode

  • A Moving Target by William Golding
    Faber, 202 pp, £8.95, May 1982, ISBN 0 571 11822 4

William Golding is evidently a bit fed up with being the author of Lord of the Flies. It was greeted with proper applause when it came out in 1954, but soon became the livre de chevet of American youth, and, worse, a favoured text in the classroom in the years of the great boom in Eng Lit, when a sterile popular variety of the New Criticism was encouraging all manner of dreary foolishness; whereupon the cognoscenti turned away, and called the book naive. Yet it was indeed a noble and a novel performance, to be followed in quick succession by two even more remarkable books, The Inheritors (1955) and Pincher Martin (1956). Suddenly famous, the author was now compelled to satisfy public curiosity by giving interviews and slogging round the lecture circuit. The powerful, idiosyncratic voice came through again – always on new and unpredictable subjects – in Free Fall (1959) and The Spire (1964). But there was less excitement than before, and also the rate of production slackened. In 1972 there were, among the three novelle of The Scorpion God, two of Golding’s best things, exhibiting his extraordinary blend of intensity and remoteness, that central inexplicitness within the explicit for which he is always trying. And Darkness Visible, three years ago, seemed to indicate a continuance of the old powers, perhaps augmented (as sometimes happens) by an audacity that comes as a grace to some artists in old age. Like Matty, hero of Darkness Visible, in his happy time, Golding holds that there is nothing hid which shall not be manifested, and nothing kept secret but that it should come abroad. He will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world, as many of them as he can: for this is what he takes novels, like parables, to be for. The effort involved is extraordinary; he has grown more willing to discuss it, but no more able to say exactly what it entails.

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