Since graduation, I’ve been trying to keep reading works in the canon of great Western literature (likely an unattainable dream). Last week I finished Brideshead Revisited (which mostly made me more annoyed at Downton Abbey for existing and also wishing that every Catholic author had the clairvoyance of Walker Percy). This week I’m reading Lord of the Flies for the first time.
I’m not sure what I expected, but so far, I’m profoundly disappointed. Maybe it gets brilliant after chapter 9, but up till now this book has been lazy writing and I don’t think it’s to prove a subversive Faulknerian purpose. I miss having lit class discussions, and I wish that my English major gang would bat this around with me a bit.
I read The Spire a couple years back and really enjoyed it, despite some psycedelic confusion (the character/narrative voice, not me). It was well-written and memorable and I would like to reread it and turn it over in my mind after a second reading. It merits it–there’s a lot going on in it.
So when I picked up Lord of the Flies, I hoped for something as provocative and difficult and memorable. But I feel like Golding let me down. So far, the narrative voice has been inconsistent, and the physical descriptions are lazy and inattentive. He’ll start describing something, interrupt himself, and then reintroduce the description, with new elements that he assumes and doesn’t describe. It’s all very confusing. I could forgive him the sloppy dialog (seriously, you couldn’t make a satisfying argument for who is speaking a quarter of the time), if only he would be willing to describe the island and scenes with a bit of care and attention. (That said, perhaps it’s a ploy to suggest the placelessness of human depravity! Even so, he could have done a better job at creating a placeless disorientation.)
However, his worse sin is that his character definition is spotty. The conflicts between the boys are hard to follow because he hasn’t created enough distinctions and individuality to cause such conflicts. Again, if this was to emphasize the everyman element of the story, he failed. These aren’t everyboys, they’re boring boys.
And I’ll forgive his weird juvenile homoerotic moments because he was writing in a different era and writing about childish affections. There’s enough true innocent loyalty in these moments to almost make this modern reader accept the heart palpitations and dizzy fondness as archaic norms. But could he at least give us enough character for each boy to let these interludes be believable? I guess I’d accept them more if I knew enough about Ralph’s personality to understand why he and Jack get along so well. I don’t want them to be predictable, but this is an excess of character flat-lining on the other extreme.
I’m not going to give up on Golding, for the sake of The Spire. I’ll finish this book and I suppose I’ll read more of his work eventually. Maybe I’ll like Lord of the Flies better when I’ve finished it. To be determined.
For those of you who’ve read Lord of the Flies, what did you think? (Hold the spoilers for now!) Am I being too picky? What’s the brilliance of this? Couldn’t we just read Homer to pick up on the depravity of man left to himself?
This has been “Really? Really??” with Hännah.
Note: I’m aware that I’m significantly under-read in great literature outside of the Western canon. Now accepting suggestions!