With the cooperation of his subject’s daughter, Sunday Times chief book reviewer Carey (What Good Are the Arts?, 2006, etc.) produces the first major biography of Nobel Prize–winning novelist William Golding (1911–1993).
The author is uniquely equipped to handle the task. He was the first person allowed access to Golding’s immense archive of letters, journals and drafts, and he also knew Golding personally, having edited a Festschrift for his 75th birthday. The amount of detail is impressive, even staggering. After an unhappy career at Oxford and a stint in the Royal Navy during World War II, Golding became, like his father, a dissatisfied schoolteacher. He published several novels, including Lord of the Flies (his first book) in 1954, while laboring over class preparations and student essays. Literary celebrity finally freed him from his bondage in the classroom. Carey ably chronicles Golding’s career-long relationship with Faber and Faber and editor Charles Monteith, and he describes Golding’s long marriage, which was lubricated with alcohol, animated by world travel and punctuated by arguments, even violence. The author portrays an insecure Golding who revised ferociously but disdained research, often preferring the visions in his imagination to the inconvenience of fact. Although he professed to dislike publicity and fame, Golding reveled in it as well, accepting countless speaking engagements and tours all over the world, as well as numerous awards and honorary degrees. Despite Carey’s enormous scholarship and access, however, much of this massive volume slips into hagiography. He invariably portrays Golding in the most positive way possible, dragging even the novelist’s darkest demons—excessive drink, possible spousal abuse—into a forgiving if not flattering light.
A tendentious but relentlessly thorough, historically important treatment.