Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Fifty-eight years ago, William Golding decided to write a book that would depict boys as boys truly were. (I know this not because I am a Golding scholar, but because I read the novel’s introduction). A response, no doubt, to the child-detective, boys’-own, let’s-save-the-day-and-then-have-lemonade style books in fashion at the time. He called it Lord of the Flies, crashed his boys’ plane and stuck them on a deserted island sometime during ‘the war’. He then spun a tale of survival, discovery, alliances, tribal power, danger and murder that has resonated with readers ever since it was published.

This would usually be when I give a brief precis of the story, but I’m not going to on this occasion as after many a survey it seems everyone in the entire world—apart from those who were in the exact same classes as me—studied this book at high school. And if by some strange chance they missed it that time, they—again, apart from me—studied the book at university. This is all well and good and, hey, at least they weren’t analysing episodes of Gossip Girl to attain their leaving certificates, but it does mean that I have found no-one to discuss this novel with who read it either recently nor as an adult. It is one of the two things that led a truly significant reading experience to be less fulfilling than it should have been. This had nothing to do with Golding’s story or writing and rather a lot more to do with me (perhaps a too-common theme of this blog) and how the novel made me feel. Now. As an adult.

You see, because although I’m sure there are crossover points between what an adolescent ‘gets out’ of Lord of the Flies, and what an older person does, I also think there may be differences, especially when the older person is not straightjacketed by curriculum and a 20-year-old Cliff Notes copy. I think those who have a bit of a gap between their ‘younger years’ and their current age might consider the messages of childhood and human nature differently than if they were 15 years old; I think it might make them feel differently.

I’m wondering if other adults have read this novel and despaired as I did. At the horrible situation; at those poor lost, ignorant children; at the characters’ complete inability to truly understand their motivations for their decisions and to rarely be able to express them; at the portrayal of the sickening way children (and adults) can treat each other; at the terribly insulting and officious way the grown-up world casts children; at the ways some of us gain power and others are shunned. I despaired and I think I got angry—I must stress again not at the novel itself but at the ideas it was discussing. Perhaps Mr Golding’s entire point. And the fact that he could do all this and tell an adventure story that still both appeals and affects people of all ages points to his triumph.

It took a while for these ideas, thoughts and feelings to stop spinning around in the back of my brain and become vaguely coherent. Instead I was a little like the boy-characters, knowing something was going on but not being able to express what it was.

·

EXAMPLE ONE

Boyfriend (opening front door in the evening): Hi, honey.

Me (grimacing with novel in hand): I hate Jack.

Boyfriend (who, like everyone else, read novel at school): Yeah, Jack’s not very nice.

Me: I hate him. I hate his guts.

·

EXAMPLE TWO

Boyfriend (different evening): Hi, honey.

Me: They freaking killed him. It was horrible. I cried on the train.

Boyfriend: I thought you knew that would happen.

Me: Well, sure, but it’s still horrible. Those awful, murderous, ignorant, hateful boys. You know how I said I wanted to have children? Well, I’ve changed my mind.

·

And that was the second thing. Not only did I crave an adult-reader to talk to about Lord of the Flies but just as I had finally come to peace with the notion that it might be very nice to start a family in a year or two, I made the mistake of reading a book that shows us how capable of menace and cruelty and all those things we like to put on adults, children can be. As someone who has never been too definite on the idea of motherhood, this was another mark in the ‘con’ column. Perhaps it’s a biological thing. It only occurred to me while watching (the very good) The Hunger Games film that really, what that story had to deal with so carefully was the fact that its main plot points revolved around children killing children.

Of course, Golding wasn’t trying to say that children were cruel (nor that they were power-hungry maniacal murderers). He was telling a story about children stranded on an island, a story everyone had read before, but this time the characters and their actions were portrayed realistically, and the realistic possibility was that it would not all end with lemonade.

I’m so very glad I read Lord of the Flies. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it and I’m glad it lived up to its ‘classic’ status. It’s still sitting with me now; somewhere in the back of my brain. Ralph, Jack, Piggy and Simon. The beast. The conch. The rock pool. The shelters. The fire. All the ideas William Golding wanted us to ponder. Or perhaps we just end up pondering. If you’re like me and didn’t have to read this novel at school, I urge you to give it a try. And if you’re one of the millions who did … read it again, even just so you can talk to me about it and how it made you feel.

K is for a Kingdom of Keys

I’ve been known to be a creature of habit; a little routined, a tad rehearsed, a titch regulated. Whether it’s going through a familiar sequence at my desk each morning, re-packing my handbag each night, or falling for the same type of unattainable bloke again and again, I can sometimes tick along like a well-wound clock. And not always on purpose.

Exactly one year, to the day, before I started writing this particular blog post on Lord Sunday, the seventh and final book in Garth Nix’s ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ series, I posted on book six, Superior Saturday. This was completely unintentional—I had no Keys to the Kingdom September plan—but it has made me think about some of my reading and book-procuring habits (and my occasional yearning to perform tasks in counts of 10 – yep, true).

Could there be certain things about certain times of year, or certain situations, which lend themselves to particular reading choices? I don’t mean that you read a particular author every August because that’s when the publisher always releases their books; I mean something to do with a mood or feeling that inclines you towards a particular genre in particular moments or at particular times. Take the seasons, for example. Like food and beer, I believe I may read heavier in winter and lighter in summer. There’s something about warm days, bright light and constant social distractions which turn me off an 800-page allegory, or a squintily peered at classic. In summer I am not naturally inclined towards a long-haul read, social-realism or something which required an index; but in winter you can load me up with a literary doorstop, a bleak account of modern life or even the odd footnote, and I’m much more inclined to immerse myself. Pop me over to a tropical island for a week and I’ll take some kind of borderline chick lit. Take me to the northern hemisphere for 8 weeks of winter and I’ll seriously consider that Beckett biography I still haven’t got around to reading. I can’t read anything too thought-necessary on planes, but I can on trains. When I’m reading a book which is a sharer between family and friends, I always want to be the last to read it. Some new books I just have to read next; while others I almost enjoy prolonging their life in the pile, awaiting the pleasure that is to come.

Lord Sunday has waited some time. When you’ve enjoyed a series, the last book is bittersweet. You experience the satisfaction of conclusion with the sadness of discontinuation. It feels like you’ve been waiting so long for this moment, but now that it’s here you don’t want it to end, you don’t want to know, you can’t let go.

Arthur Penhaligon has almost finished his journey in the House. He has one more key-holder to beat, one more part of the Will to secure, and then he can stop the awful spread of nothing, restore the house to its former glory, save his friends and family back on Earth, and go back to being a normal boy (well, as much as his exposure to other worldly power will let him). Up in Lord Sunday’s Incomparable Garden all hell is breaking loose, and all Arthur wants to do is finish up and head home. It’s not much for a nice boy to ask for but like many souls before him, Arthur must first complete his destiny.

Garth Nix should be congratulated for a very thorough tying up of storylines, character arcs and loose ends. It is more than clear in his seventh and final novel that this series was well-planned and not just a good idea which got ‘stretched out’. I have no questions. I feel no wanting.  Whether this is completely ideal I am yet to decide. I do feel a little like it’s all been tidied up, boxed and slipped under the bed, but then if something was left hanging, surely I would have been annoyed at this. Surely?

I don’t want to give away plots but will say the story’s conclusion was unexpected; I hadn’t thought that was where we were all heading. I’d had inklings of certain spanners and twists but not the ultimate one which revealed itself. I think it was a brave ending, particularly for a children’s book. Mr Nix could have gone down the road of least resistance and given us an all-conquering, life-goes-back-to-being-normal-and-awesome finish, but he didn’t. Not that it was ‘bad’. Just not easy. In fact, I found the last few chapters to be both thoroughly sad and wonderful at the same time, and found myself wishing in a way that the whole series had bent to this tone and perspective more. This last comment suggests that I found something lacking in the writing elsewhere but that’s not really so. I did seem to lose some enthusiasm for the series in the last couple of books as the story wasn’t quite taking me to the adventurous place the first books did. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like them, just that they didn’t ‘give’ me as much as I hoped. I think this may also have something to do with these books being pitched – correctly – at the storyline level of the kids who are supposed to be reading them. I am not, after all, eleven. But if these last few chapters are a sign of the usual maturity and wonder of Nix’s writing then I’m keen for more. Perhaps I’ll even make reading his stories a habit.

H is for Hunger

Despite not being able to describe myself as a ‘young adult’ – I recently turned 30, but who’s counting? – YA fiction still appeals to the reading-me. Is it because I’m hopelessly immature? Borderline illiterate? Has moving back to my parents’ house led to some kind of mental and/or emotional regression?

Or are there things about teen novels which make them more generally appealing? Gone are the days when one stopped reading young adult fiction when one left high school. Harry Potter and the Tomorrow When the War Began series proved that, the Vampires continue to prove that. If the story is strong enough, if the characters appeal, if there is a thrill-aspect, if there is something in the writing or narrative which ‘speaks to’ the reader, then a book can be for anyone, no matter its target market or placement in the bookshop, no matter – in this case – the Stephenie Meyer quote on the cover.

H is for Hunger because our book on this occasion is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, a thoroughly enjoyable, well-told adventure tale set in a frightening future-America.

Each year the wealthy, powerful, slightly mysterious Capitol demands tributes from its 12 downtrodden districts. A tribute of 2 children from each district to fight all the other tributes in the annual Hunger Games. Fight each other to death. There can be only one, and that one, after managing to survive the carnage of battle and malevolence of the gamemakers, can return to their district victorious, rich and able to provide for their families and neighbours. Katniss volunteers herself as District 12’s girl-tribute when her younger sister’s name is drawn from the ballot. Peeta is the boy-tribute, the baker’s son who has always been in love with Katniss – or has he?

What follows is a well-conceived story, told with little of the condescension or over-explanation which sometimes weaves its way through novels aimed at readers of a certain age. Suzanne Collins’ novel is smart, intense, emotive and entertaining. The characters have weight to them, the plot kept me guessing, and on a personal note even the dash of teen romance managed to not yuck me out (high praise indeed!).

The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy though you can tell that it was originally written as a complete tale, as there is no narrative reliance on stringing things out. Sure there are plotlines and a couple of stray comments which I can see will be expanded on in the upcoming books but I wouldn’t have finished the story feeling dissatisfied if the end was the end. I’m pleased there are more books to come (the third is published any day now) because I was so entertained and I like the characters, but at the same time I do wonder if ‘we’ sometimes overdo the series-thing. Can’t a good story simply sit on its own without being stretched out or built upon over more and more books? I say this as a reader who occasionally feels overcommitted with all the series I’m trying to keep on top of (books and television!), which I need to try to read before accidentally finding out what happens; either by an enthusiastic friend, oblivious stranger or ill-conceived internet search. As a publishing professional I, of course, understand the advantages of releasing series, especially for the younger folk who will want to ‘collect them all’. My shelves, too, were once lined with Pen Pals and Girl Talk installments, not to mention the crime series I follow now. And as I said I’m glad there are more Hunger Games books to come. In fact, I can’t wait to meet the characters again and see what the evil Capitol has planned and how the good people of its districts will fight against it.

If you enjoy a well-written adventure tale then The Hunger Games may be for you. Despite the teenage characters and illustrated cover, it’s a great read and you may find yourself catching the all-stations train on purpose just so you can get in more reading time. Good stories are for all readers – even those of us who are no-longer-so-young adults.