I know, I know, I know. It is shocking that someone who claims to love books has missed out on some of the classics, both modern and ‘classic’ classic as I call them, we can’t read everything after all can we? Though to be fair one of the reasons that I have finally ended up reading it now was because no one else at my new book club, made up of some of my new Liverpool friends who all love books though possibly not as religiously as me, had ever read it before and so we decided that we should.
In an unknown time, and for reasons that are only ever hinted at (mainly for a crash or air strike in some unnamed war), a group of boys end up stranded on a desert island in the middle of nowhere with no sign of adult life. These boys, of all ages,. With Ralph, through the help of his sidekick Piggy, and alongside Jack and Simon as the leader the boys must somehow try and survive and create their own society. Yet as time goes on and the initial joy of a land free of parents and full of adventure starts to lose its charm, fractions form and rumours of something dark and terrifying inhabiting the land, sea or sky above them things start to take an ever darker turn.
I know lots and lots of people have read The Lord of the Flies and so it would be easy just to ramble on and on about it and give everything away BUT that said there are some people who haven’t read it and I want to be mindful of them, especially when three people ruined it for me, two on twitter and one on GoodReads. So I am going to do my best not to give too much away and focus on the initial plot and mystically hint at one or two other things. I may nod at the ending, because it had a real effect on what I thought of the book overall, but I will warn you of that when it comes and it won’t have a single spoiler in it. Promise. So, the book…
Firstly I have to say I was hooked by it, enjoyed almost seems the wrong word as it unravels. I found the ambiguity of what had happened intriguing from the start, and indeed the whole way through, and found the boys reaction to it all utterly believable just as I did as the book gets darker and darker. I was with the boys as they got over, rather quickly but you may well do at that age, the terror of what had happened, the jubilation and confusion of surviving and then the illation of having a place of paradise as your playground.
Having been a young boy once back in the distant past, I could imagine how I would have behaved. I was instantly utterly charmed by Piggy, the slightly plump boy who doesn’t want to be called Piggy and then of course does, with his glasses and his brains and yet not really a boy who looks like a leader. (One of the things we asked ourselves at book group was who we would be – hands up I am a Piggy, as it were.) I could remember the Ralph’s of the world who sort of just ended up being athletic and the leader by sheer happenstance, every bloody time how did they do it, and the Jack’s who were head boy material, if not the head boy, and who craved leadership and popularity like I would have been craving another Crunchie bar. I could also see how fun would need to become survival and work, and invariably be easier to be fun until the nights came and along with it the terrors imagined or otherwise.
All this is captured effortlessly by Golding, as is the decent into fractions that follow and humans do as humans would in that situation as uncomfortable and confronting as that might be. I have to say I didn’t expect what is now deemed to be a children’s classic too to be quite so brutal and uncompromising. There may be sunshine and sandy beaches but the sense of impending doom as the novel goes on, and what happens as it weaves its way along and onto the end, is quite horrifying and I spent quite a lot of the book feeling very tense. It got to me. I think part of that is how Golding makes the atmosphere, environment and nature of the island take over the characters in the book in all the different ways, I haven’t seen this so skilfully done in many books.
The silence of the forest was more oppressive than the heat, and at this hour of the day there was not even the whine of insects. Only when Jack himself roused a gaudy bird from a primitive nest of sticks was the silence shattered and echoes set ringing by a harsh cry that seemed to come out of the abyss of ages. Jack himself shrank at this cry with a hiss of indrawn breath; and for a minute became less a hunter than a furtive thing, ape-like among the tangle of trees. Then the trial, the frustration, claimed him again and he searched the ground avidly. By the bole of a vast tree that grew pale flowers on a grey trunk he checked, closed his eyes, and once more drew in the warm air; and this time his breath came short, there was even a passing pallor in his face, and then the surge of blood again.
Though some naughty people had spoiled one major element of the book I was surprised on two occasions and genuinely horrified on two others. Golding does something very clever which I love in good books (without bloody precious kids narrating it) where we have two levels in how we read some of the situations. Ralph, Piggy, Simon and Jack all read events that unfollow with a child’s mind, as adults we see the full picture and often this only adds more tension and fear as you read. As I mentioned I was tense and genuinely fearful as the book went on both for the kids and those poor pigs who had been living in such peace.
Now I have to mention the ending. I won’t say what happens but if you haven’t read the book skip to the next paragraph anyway. I mention the ending specifically because it took the book from a solid five out of five down to a four. We go from high drama to such a sudden and ultimately disappointing, if slightly appeasing and teeny bit redemptive, ending that I felt really cheated. I certainly thought that as Golding was so determined to have this ending, it being so sudden and coming from nowhere it made you wonder why, the book should have ended exactly a paragraph before it did. Another thing we all agreed on in book group.
I am really pleased that I have finally read Lord of the Flies and spent time lost on that desert island with those boys. It is a fascinating, if rather grim, portrayal of both a world if children ruled and how human nature unfolds. That might sound grand but can you see it unravelling any other way than Golding describes, isn’t that is what is so powerful about the book? What is also so impressive is that in 60 years this book hasn’t dated at all. If you haven’t read it then do, and if you are teaching it at school please teach it well and don’t beat kids over the head with it all (just enough to get them thinking and passing their exams) because there is much to get from reading it. I will certainly be reading more Golding.
I should add, as illustrated by the image above, it is also a brilliant book group book with much to discuss. If you fancy discussing it in the comments below then we can go for it, so do comment as I would love to chat about it all over again if you have read it. If you haven’t read it, go read it and then pop back later!