Dan Sandman

13: Close Quarters by William Golding

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 28/03/2014 at 12:00 pm

Close Quarters by William GoldingPart two of William Golding’s Sea Trilogy is the continued journal of Edmund Talbot, a Georgian aristocrat on a British warship heading to colonise Australia. As Edmund’s ship becomes encumbered by seaweed, an encounter with a passing vessel–the Alcyone–brings news that the Napoleon Bonaparte has been imprisoned and war has ended. Soon after, both ships are tied together and a ball is held to celebrate. Following this strange twisting of Georgian dance ceremony, driven by drink and opium, frightened by the ever growing weed, everyone on board begins to slowly loose their senses. And Mr Talbot, our young aristocratic hero, madly in love with a ‘schoolgirl’, starts to write poetry.

The effect of Mr Talbot’s second journal, taking the form of an historical document, is to transport the modern reader directly into those historic times. To smell the sea salt, take in the archaic conversations, observe the rigid application of a class system, and become gripped–pulled into a claustrophobic world where time itself appears to slow. At no point does Golding’s writing appear unauthentic, its use of historically correct language is spot on. As readers, we would be completely forgiven for thinking that these where actual historic documents, not the work of an author writing in the late twentieth century. Never does Golding allow his own voice, hailing from a different century, to creep into the text. This is the world Nelson and colonisation as tolled from the horses mouth, so to speak. And its a remarkable piece of literature from a Nobel Prize winning author.

William Golding served in the British Navy during World War II and was involved in the sinking of the Bismark. He had been an actor, a teacher, a musician and a school teacher. His wide knowledge of seafaring lingo–referred to as Tarpaulin in the book–might have been accumulated during his time at sea, as might his knowledge of British sea history have been kindled. Just as Golding drew upon his experiences as a school teacher to write his debut novel Lord of The Flies, the Booker winning author expertly used his broad subject knowledge to enhance his sea stories.

As a writer, like Joseph Conrad before him, William Golding was a complete master of the storytelling craft and a knowledgeable sailor.


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