Book Review – The Double Tongue by William Golding

On the penultimate day of his life, as he did every day, Sir William Golding wrote in his journal. He expressed his plan to start revising the first draft of The Double Tongue the next day. Unfortunately, fate intervened and he passed without having the opportunity to do so. Let this be a lesson to all so-called “writers”. Golding wrote in his journal every day and planned on revising a novel the day of his death. I should also add that he lived to the age of 81. What’s your excuse for not writing, again?

In commemoration of the 21st anniversary of the author’s passing on June 19th I re-read The Double Tongue. As any fan of William Golding knows, every one of his novels is different. This one was certainly the most unique. I thought it a very interesting choice of topics to follow-up a sea trilogy. It presented the tale of a young lady, Arieka, who became the Pythia at a Delphic Temple.  The author set the novel in Ancient Greece at a time when it’s power declined as Rome’s ascended. The Point-of-View was first person from Arieka’s perspective. (Golding took a lot of criticism though out his career for not writing about female characters, so this approach marked quite a departure.) At the time he wrote this draft, Golding was an octogenarian. He deserves monumental credit for taking on a project like this at the literal conclusion of his life.

Many people know Golding from his first novel, Lord of the Flies. Many are surprised to discover it wasn’t his first book. His first published work was a book of poetry. The Double Tongue showed me that even in the twilight of his years he still possessed a poet’s gift for language. Even for a first draft, I found the text rich with poetic expressions. Some examples included: “They were just enough to remind me that women aren’t free, not even the free ones.” (Page 17) Another memorable line: “I think that in sleep with its dreams we are trying to rid ourselves of the rubbish of our minds.” (Page 33) I also found the following exceptional use of alliteration: “…I heard from that sun-drenched crowd before the portico a stricken and sudden silence.”

The novel did have its drawbacks, however. For one thing, I found it very heavy on dialog. I’m sure had Golding been able to revise he would’ve balanced it out with more narration.

There’s no greater indication of an author’s aptitude than to make a reader want more. The Double Tongue did so for the wrong reason. In my copy of the book I found a blurb that read, “A passage of the manuscript is missing at this point.” (Page 78) This leads to the inevitable question, is it fair to publish author’s unfinished works? (From my own experience, I didn’t find The Love of the Last Tycoon up to the standards of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s completed novels.) I think that the only way an author can prevent something from getting published posthumously is to throw the manuscript into the fire, a la Gogol. I thought The Double Tongue an entertaining and interesting read. As a hard-core William Golding fan, I’m glad I had the opportunity to do so. It left me thinking that just maybe with a little more time Sir William’s last novel could have been his best.  


One comment

  1. This made me think of Pearl S. Buck’s manuscript, “The Eternal Wonder” that was found recently and published by her son. It was her unedited version of something she was working on before she died. I really liked peeking into her process. So glad these books are published because, even though they may not be the author’s best, it’s intriguing to explore their raw creative thinking.

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