Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lord of the Flies by William Golding (10 down 90 to go)

Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise, friend called Piggy.

This is the second time I’ve read Lord of the Flies and the only work I’ve read by William Golding. The book is an allegory regarding the nature of humanity and tells the tale of a group of school boys, stranded on an uninhabited South Seas island.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bravo Mr. Golding. Easily my favorite thus far. I read Lord of the Flies the first time just a few years ago, so I already knew I would like it, and it was better the second time. Oh, I don’t know where to begin, and should I begin, I think I might never end for all the powerful emotions and thoughts this masterpiece evokes. So, I will begin with a synopsis.

A group of “innocents” or boys ages 5 to 12, are stranded on a South Pacific island, after their plane crashes. There are no adult survivors and the time setting, somewhat vague, is around WWII. Two leaders emerge, Ralph and Jack. The boys elect Ralph their leader; Ralph, Jack, and some of the older boys establish order and discipline. Ralph revels in his position and views their plight as a grand adventure. He is mostly kind and just, and always keeps a sharp interest in survival and rescue. My heart ached for Ralph. He bore a responsibility no 12-year-old should ever bear. For the most part, he bears it well though imperfectly.

Illustration of Ralph blowing the conch from my 2003 Perigree Books edition.

His chief supporter and confidant is Piggy, a fat, weak and be-spectacled asthmatic that is wiser than the rest, but impotent. He is often the subject of ridicule and scorn, even by Ralph.

Ralph’s leadership is immediately challenged by Jack. Jack has intelligence and charisma, but there are hints of cruelty and ambition. Jack defers to Ralph in the beginning, though he is clearly envious, and the reader expects treachery.

And then there is Simon, who at one point has a hallucinatory conversation with the lord of the flies, the head of a pig the boys put on a stake. The head is, of course, decaying and swarming with flies. Lord of the flies is also the literal meaning of Beelzebub.

SPOILER ALERT: The following contains spoilers.

As I said, the reader expects treachery from Jack and it comes full force. Jack is able to turn most of the boys away from Ralph, and two rival factions are created. They initially intend to co-exist, but the larger, stronger group begins to prey upon the weaker. Simon is murdered, though accidentally, and Piggy is murdered in cold blood. Finally, an island wide manhunt for Ralph is underway, and his murder is averted by the last-minute arrival of a British warship.

There is a brilliant bit of irony at the end. The crew of the ship spots smoke and fire on the island, which is part of the hunt for Ralph. Upon coming ashore to investigate, a naval officer sees the disgraceful condition of the boys and laments: 
I should have thought that a pack of British boys...you're all British aren't you?...would have been able to put up a better show than that ...I mean...

A bit hypocritical, from the commander of a warship...I mean…

I believe Lord of the Flies is Golding’s expression of his world view, more precisely his humanity view: that humanity is NOT inherently good. I know that belief is unpopular, but life has taught me that popularity has nothing to do with truth.


He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet. ~ Ralph

Soon, in a matter of centuries, the sea would make an island of the castle. I just love the truth and irony of the wording.

Film Renditions: 1963 British version was true to the book, but the production and acting was horrible. The 1990s version was better acted and better cinematography, but a drastic departure from the Novel, modernized (1990s) and Americanized. I don’t recommend either.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov

After reading a few chapters, and for reasons that seem good to me, I've decided to eliminate this from my reading list (see rule #6). I will skip to the next novel which now becomes number 10, all others shift up, and I'll add #101 to the end of the list.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (9 down, 91 to go)

I love the title, not sure why. It might have something to do with what the Bard had to say about life:
It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

This is the first time I’ve read The Sound and the Fury or William Faulkner. The book is a southern-Gothic, modernist novel, told mostly in stream of consciousness, telling the tale of the Compson family, Jefferson Mississippi, early to mid-20th century.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title is the only thing I loved. I’m not a fan of stream of consciousness, though I enjoyed this more than Ulysses.

Like the previous novel, The Grapes of Wrath, The Sound and the Fury is about the disintegration of an American family, in this case the once proud and genteel Compson family. Set in Jefferson, Mississippi it covers nearly three decades of the Compson family.

The first chapter, there are only four, is told from “the idiot’s” perspective. I apologize for the term; it is how Faulkner and his characters describe Benjy Compson who is severely mentally handicapped. Benjy’s account is very hard to follow as it jumps around, one moment describing the present, the next recalling events years or decades earlier, and then switching back to the present, or some other time. I suspect this was Faulkner’s intent, to confuse the reader, and thus let them view the world through Benjy’s confused eyes. You get the sense that the only person who Loves Benjy, and the only person he loves, is his sister Candace (Caddy). Caddy is headstrong and impetuous and the only likeable character in the story. She is also the only main character not given voice to recount her perspective.

The second chapter is told by Quentin, the family's shining hope. They sell a portion of the estate to send Quentin to Harvard, but he fails to restore the family to its former station.

In the third chapter, hope for the family is now placed upon the youngest, Jason; it is poorly placed. Jason is selfish, conniving, bitter, and cruel. He must provide for his hypochondriac mother, dependent brother Benjy, and Caddy’s illegitimate daughter, Quentin (not to be confused with her Uncle Quentin). There is no parcel of land to purchase a Harvard education for Jason, so he works in the local hardware store, does the best he can, and holds everyone in contempt.

The final chapter is told mostly by the African-American servant, Dilsey, as she recounts the further decline of the Compson family.

Overall, the novel is about as cheery as Macbeth, from whence it takes its title. Again, I am not a fan of stream of consciousness, but this story grew on me once I realized my confusion was probably the author’s intent.

I only noted one quotation worth mentioning. Quentin reflects on his father’s words about time and a gold watch his father gave him:
I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.

Film Rendition: The 1959 film with Yul Brynner as Jason only covers chapter three and that not very faithfully. The film has a happy, hopeful ending that is not true to the book, and utterly unbelievable in the film. There is a new version under development directed by James Franco. That is interesting since Franco directed and starred in a rendition of another Faulkner classic, As I Lay Dying. Financially it was a disaster, but it was a very faithful rendering. Franco is also producing, Blood Meridian. He seems to have a passion for turning classic American literature into film. Bravo Mr. Franco, and thank you.