Saturday, November 01, 2008

In Brief: William Golding's The Spire

Brief notes on William Golding's novel, The Spire:

Father Jocelin has had an exciting vision. He has ordered an enormous spire be built, to the glory of God, on the site of the old church. Jocelin insists on it, over the objections of the building foreman, who says it can't be done--the foundation will not hold--and other church figures, who say it shouldn't be. We are limited to Jocelin's perspective, what he hears or understands, however dimly, is related in the third person. Strange happenings just beyond his knowing are hinted at, via his uncertain sense of them. It eventually emerges that Jocelin may be mad. It matters not that he is told that the foundation will not--cannot--hold if the spire is built. God will provide. Various calamities ensue as a result of his devotion to his vision.

With Pincher Martin last year, this is the second William Golding novel I've read. I've found them both surprisingly slow reads. It's not that the individual sentences are difficult, but somehow the prose, as with Handke, resists me. I am unable to get into a flow. Though perhaps this is a good thing, perhaps "getting into a flow" all too often allows me to float on the surface of narrative, without attending to what I'm reading. Perhaps this is what "smoothness of surface" is all about. Anyway, Golding's writing is knotty. At various times I have had difficulty even determining what precisely is being narrated. This was a bigger problem for me with Pincher Martin, with its more limited setting and sensory space (open sea, rock, air, brutal conditions), but here, too, the same single-minded devotion to a point of view--all is narrated as seen or understood by Father Jocelin's limited perspective--makes one yearn--I weakly admit--for an authoritative voice. Just as Jocelin is devoted to his vision, Golding is devoted to his. He does not waver. Except that, in both novels, we are unexpectedly graced, in the end, with a voice that knows.


Anonymous said...

"With Pincher Martin last year, this is the second William Golding novel I've read": no Lord of the Flies? that's just about the only Golding that most Americans (myself included) have read. There's a nice essay by Josipovici in The World and the Book (I assume you know this?) which made me want to track down his other books, but I haven't managed to yet . . .

Richard said...

Hi Dan. Yes, it's true, I've never read Lord of the Flies; it wasn't required for high school, and I'd tended to lump it in with other high school books, like Catcher in the Rye. It was a passing remark by Josipovici that put Golding on my radar, but I've not read the book you mention, though I'd heard of it. Thanks for the heads up on the Golding essay.