Book Review – Pincher Martin by William Golding

Here’s life on an island in the sun as only William Golding could describe it. When I reviewed the plot summary of Pincher Martin, I knew I had to read it. It described the book as a seafaring tale about a British Naval Officer who found himself stranded on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Throughout the course of the narrative he experienced flashbacks and delusions that melded past, present and future. As if the challenge of writing a book that followed the adventures of one man alone in the most prosaic setting imaginable didn’t challenge the author enough, the protagonist Golding chose was unreliable and unlikable. Just about every element of the book encompassed something we writers are taught never, never to do. And yet, in Pincher Martin, it worked.

As with any Golding novel, his brilliant use of language enriched the narrative far beyond the story. Mr. Golding began his writing career as a poet; in his Nobel Lecture he emphasized his great passion for verse. In Pincher Martin, it showed. I read so many poetic lines that I struggled to provide just a few in this review.

How can she hold the center of my darkness when the only real feeling I have for her is hate? (Location 1634)

When the air had gone with the shriek, water came in to fill its place-burning water, hard in the throat and mouth as stones that hurt. (Location 21)

The sun could illumine the mist but not pierce it. And darkly in the sun-mist loomed the shape of a not-ship where nothing but a ship could be. (Location 183)

I cite three examples in my reviews most times. The author inundated Pincher Martin with such a rich array of language, I need to add one more.

There is no center of sanity in madness. (Location 1982)

I’ve read all of Mr. Golding’s works currently in print. Phrasing like the above makes me wish that whoever has the rights to his 1935 work Poems would re-issue it.

As I’m sure readers inferred by now, Pincher Martin wasn’t one of the happier novels in the William Golding catalog. It almost made Lord of the Flies seem like an episode of Fantasy Island.

Golding showed exceptional skill at foreshadowing. The author inserted it sparingly and with great subtlety. The first time I read this book, I couldn’t believe the creativity of the ending. It met the classic definition of a proper conclusion: it surprised me, but at the same time, it hit me as inevitable. When I read Pincher Martin the second time, I picked-up on the clever hints Golding included along the way. As I strongly encourage readers to examine the book, I don’t want to give away any spoilers. In fact, a few weeks ago I recommended it to someone. She had a foreshadowing question with her work-in-progress. I encouraged her to read this book.

Another superb element of Pincher Martin entailed how the book left itself open to interpretation. That’s the difference between an art and a science. With a science, there’s a hypothesis, someone tests it and then we know every time we follow a certain procedure, we’ll get the same outcome. Literature is similar to the Kuleshov Effect in film: the mind of the person experiencing it contributes to the understanding. I read the afterword by Philipa Gregory. I also used Virginia Tiger’s William Golding: The Unmoved Target, to help me grasp the text. They presented differing evaluations regarding the significance of the rock among other elements of the tale. Once again, I don’t want to spoil the book for those planning on reading it. I’ll avoid providing details, but both critics presented lucid, well-reasoned analyses. The fact they differed showed me the true genius of William Golding’s art.

The next time readers find themselves day-dreaming about an island in the sun, check out Pincher Martin. It will provide a whole new perspective. While thoughts of hurricanes, loneliness and struggling to find water may not appeal, reading William Golding’s brilliant depiction of Pincher Martin’s struggles will make the journey well worth the time. Just bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

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