William Golding, The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies
John Carey

Simon & Schuster/Free Press
Hardcover/573 pages
ISBN: 978-1-43918732-6
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". . . nothing less than spectacular."

John Carey’s biography, “William Golding,The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies,” is nothing less than spectacular. With access to massive amounts of intimate information, Carey presents an extraordinary view into how Golding’s thinking and his experiences transposed into his characters and story development.

After Golding’s death in 1993, his daughter, Judy Carver, and his publishing company for forty years, Faber and Faber, provided Carey unrestricted access to archives; unpublished works, drafts, personal journals and correspondence.

Golding’s first novel, 1983 Nobel Prize winner Lord of the Flies (published in 1954), depicts British boys during a nuclear war stranded on an island. Golding’s years as a schoolmaster gave him insight into the youthful power conflicts. Carey points out many Golding’s novel are set at sea because of his years as a Naval officer and love of sailing, like Pincher Martin, about a sole surviver of a torpedoed destroyer who struggles with his likely death.

Golding attributed success to his editor, Charles Monteith from Faber and Faber, who for forty years countered Golding’s self-doubts. Golding’s first three novels were never published, and “Lord of the Flies” piled up rejections before Monteith decided it had merit. Monteith notes Golding’s “destructive power of his own self-criticism” which left “marvelous” novels unpublished even after he became a successful novelist.

The first few chapters of this hefty biography focuses on Golding’s journals that reveal his unhappy childhood–“timid, fearful, lonely, and imaginative to the point of hallucinations.” Other sections includes synopses and critical reviews of published and unpublished works. It is not necessary to read the book chronologically, however, because of Carey’s historical prose style it is engaging.

Up to the time of his death at age of 82, regardless of his literary success, Golding remained insecure, in a “terror of adverse criticism,” suffered periods of depression, and often “drank to oblivion.”

This biography unveils truths about Golding’s collision with reality. Trained as a scientist, his novels pit reason against religion, as in “The Inheritors,” about the destruction of Neanderthals by the “new people.”

His journals divulge fear of writing, and belief that he was a “monster.” Only his wife, Ann, could calm his fears. The rare insight in Golding’s life propels the urge to seek his other works.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla