FIRE DOWN BELOW by William Golding


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The final installment of Golding's sea trilogy begun with the 1980 Rites of Passage and bridged by Close Quarters (1987). Why Golding has steered this project over the course of three full novels isn't made convincingly clear from his conclusion. In Rites of Passage, young aristo Edmund Talbot boards an unsound ship headed for New Zealand in the 1800's with the intention of becoming an administrator in the untamed wilds of the British colony. Presented in the form of Edmund's travel journel, we learn a thing or two about the miseries of 18th-century shipping, while Edmund's naive eye takes in the assorted characters of this floating English microcosm: a freethinker, a rector, officers, emigrants, naval hooligans. Mainly, though, we view the developing character of stuffy old Talbot, who, exposed daily to danger and raw humanity, evolves into a character capable of digesting large doses of life. In Close Quarters, however, the project bogs down along with Edmund's moribund ship in the southern Atlantic, the only central point of interest being Edmund's introduction to the charming Marion Chumley. The last volume here continues to chart the ruin of Edmund's ship (rivalry among the deckhands, a broken mast, water everywhere) and follows up on Edmund's fascination with Miss Chumley, now bound for India. Following innumerable digressions woven around Edmund's eccentric fellow travelers, we find him restored as a landlubber in His Majesty's colony, well-rounded if not perfect, and paired up, inevitably, with Marion Chumley. A poised, perfectly mannered construct with an authentically realized background, but slow sailing for the most part and not likely to attract a wide audience.

ISBN: 374-25381-1
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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