My writer friends are afraid to read William Golding. I take the blame for this. They tell me that they read Lord of the Flies and found it “too disturbing.” I respond that Golding used that book as practice. His pessimistic portrayal of human nature in some of his other words makes Lord of the Flies look like something out of Fantasy Island. If that doesn’t make them want to read more Golding I don’t know what would.
In all fairness Sir William Golding is my all-time favorite author. I’ve read work by every prose author who received the Nobel Prize in Literature, and Golding is undoubtedly the best. One of the most difficult challenges an author confronts is staying in the voice of the character. No one could do this more proficiently than Golding. His deftness at characterization went into overdrive in The Spire.
Golding revived one of his best literary techniques in this story: the unlikeable protagonist. It took a special kind of author to make this the focus of the novel and yet have readers hang in there to the end. He pulled it off brilliantly in The Spire. It described Dean Jocelyn’s (perhaps insane) vision of building a 400 foot tall tower above his church. To make this even more interesting the tower was constructed on a very unstable foundation. Golding could have stopped there, but he decided to make the story even more intriguing. Jocelyn repeatedly made references to miracles, an angel guiding him and God wanting this tower to be built. Through this exposition Golding made it pretty clear that this whole situation would not end well. His choice of Jocelyn’s voice to tell the story enabled readers to understand that this is more of a monument to him than anything else.
One memorable scene occurred when one of the workers fell to his death during the construction. Golding wrote:
In this dark and wet, it took even Jocelyn all his will to remember something important was being done; and when a workman fell through the hole above the crossways, and left a scream scored all the way down the air, which was so thick it seemed to keep the scream as something mercilessly engraved there, he did not wonder that no miracle interposed between the body and the logical slab of stone that received it. (Page 49)
In this one, admittedly very long, sentence, Golding truly defined the core essence of his protagonist. It was a fascinating about face from Jocelyn’s inner monologue where he thought, “Lord, I thank thee that Thou hast kept me humble!” (Page 18)
With writing like this, Golding humbled my faith in my own writing ability!
Another major highlight to The Spire came through Golding’s beautiful use of language. He began his literary career as a poet, and it showed in this book. One phenomenal example:
What can I do on this day of days, when at last they have begun to fashion my vision in stone, but give thanks?
Therefore with angels and archangels-
Joy fell on the words like sunlight. They took fire. (Page 17)
Another outstanding simile: “Vanished like a raindrop in a river.” (Page 180)
The most original use of language by far occurred in the description of the “singing stones.” Throughout the book as the spire rose the stones made an “eeeeeee” sound that Golding eloquently described as “singing.” I could actually hear the noise as I read the book. I’ve never before had that happen to me. I’ve got to give major kudos to Mr. Golding on this one.
There were a lot of other great plot points and story sparks in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the surprise twist as to how Jocelyn got the job of leading the monastery. I won’t spoil the fun for readers here. I will report: Golding did an awesome job flexing his creative muscle on this one. If you’re troubled by the idea of using “miracles” as a substitute for sound engineering practices, I envy you the thrill of reading what made all this possible.
I think of William Golding as one of the greatest novelists who ever lived. In fact, I have a photo of him on my writing desk. It’s staring at me as I’m crafting this review. The Spire stood out as a great example of Golding’s superlative talents. I wrote earlier that he held a pessimistic view of human nature. To be perfectly fair to him, he always disagreed with that statement. He once said something to the effect, “If you hold up red and blue together the red will always stand out.” The red in this case meant the negative. With the greatest of respect I think he refuted his own argument in The Spire. In spite of reading a 200 plus page story regarding an unlikeable narrator pursuing an obsessive quest, what stood out from The Spire was Golding’s incomparable talent as a wordsmith and storyteller.