Saturday, January 10, 2015

Lord of the FliesLord of the Flies by William Golding
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" has been rated one of 100 best English-language novels from 1923 - 2005 by TIME magazine. It has received high rankings on various other lists made by literary critics and readers. My poor ranking clearly indicates that I am ignorant about literature - I find the book really bad, though redeemed by great writing about nature, a few unforgettable scenes, and one of the best titles in the entire world literature.

A very brief summary of this 1959 novel: during a war, presumably nuclear, between the Reds and, most likely the West, a plane carrying English boys, aged six to twelve, crashes on a Pacific island. No adults survive and the boys are left to their own devices in habitation on the island. At first they collaborate through keeping fire that emits smoke to make their presence on the island known, hoping for a rescue by a passing ship or plane. Then, things quickly deteriorate because of defects in human nature.

To me, the absolutely worst thing about the novel is that the individual boys are not real people, they are just vehicles to represent various human types. Ralph is sensible, civilized, and epitomizes democracy, Jack is a savage, who wants to be a warrior and kill, Piggy represents intelligence (after all, he wears glasses, an awful cliché), Simon stands for peace, Roger for cruelty, and so on. The fights between the groups of boys illustrate the fights between human ideas and between various modes of human existence. So simplistic! "The Metamorphosis" by Kafka, which I finished two days ago, about a man turning into an insect, is so much more realistic book. And much more mature.

One can find some painfully bad sentences, in which the author ineptly tries to write about the human condition. For example: "Simon became inarticulate in his effort to express mankind's essential illness." Or: "[...] the sow's head still remained like an after-image. The half-shut eyes were dim with the infinite cynicism of adult life." Or the ultimately horrible: "Which is better - to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?" I also do not like the ending, which manages to make the content of the novel less cohesive.

On the positive side, Mr. Golding - as opposed to his limited skills of writing about people - can write gorgeously about the nature,. His description of the topography and the plant life on the Pacific island are more richly visual than most in the best world literature. The scene of killing of the sow is utterly brutal, dramatic, and unforgettable. I also love Mr. Golding's sharp observation that boys are more likely to follow warriors who paint their faces. Alas, it is true to this day about adults as well.

The phenomenally well chosen title is the best feature. One of the seven princes of hell in Christian demonology is Beelzebub, also known as the Lord of the Flies. One needs to read this deeply flawed book to understand the greatness of the title.

Two and a half stars.

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