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This is the only William Golding novel that I haven't enjoyed.

 

I could appreciate the technical skill of his prose. Especially in the earlier chapters there were cadences in the writing that were almost crying out to be read aloud in their biblical grandeur.

 

I was aware of his use of metaphor and symbolism, the most obvious use of which being to convey Jocelin's half suppressed sexuality and his masturbatory practises.

 

In a way this character reminded me of Peter Carey's Oscar of (Oscar and Lucinda). There is the same obsessiveness and the same unprepossessing physical appearance. I certainly had no sympathy for Jocelin and got very weary with him, so much so that come the last fifty pages I was skimming.

 

It doesn't help of course that my knowledge of Christian theology and practise is so limited (as it is with other religions) that I know that I must have missed out on quite a lot that other more informed readers would have cottoned on to.

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This was my second (or fourth) William Golding novel. the other was The Sea Trilogy.

 

I have decided, after a month's reflection, that I didn't enjoy this book. I didn't have a problem with the language and I suspect that I got about half of the metaphors. But I'm not sure that this type of story works for me. For example I didn't get the idea that Jocelin had some sort of cancer in his back or the fact that he was basically an incompetent who got his job due to nepotism by proxy.

 

Am I supposed to understand all of the references and know what is happening? If I had not missed the clues or understood some of the context better would I have enjoyed the story more?

 

I guess I don't get on with Golding.

 

I discussed this book at work and ended up lending it to my boss because it is one of his favourites of all time.

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Sounds like this is a bit of a Marmite book.

 

I gladly finished this last night and was quite relieved to. It's a very difficult book to give stars to, but I settled on 2 and here's why.

 

This book is dripping with symbolism, metaphor, biblical allusions, and a stifling, claustrophobic prose. Initially, as we were introduced to Jocelin and the other members of the church, I felt that the narratve gave us a god's eye view of each of the characters - we looked down on them then were drawn closer to their own psychologies through focalised narrative techniques. It was very successful and I enjoyed that flexibility very much.

 

Then, the narrative came to rest on Jocelin. Ah, Jocelin with his obssessive piety, bull-headed vision, and repressed sexuality that gradually, frantically finds outlet in the phallic church spire, and voyeurism. I did not like Jocelin one bit - actually, he made me quite nauseous in my disgust. 'Fanatical' doesn't even begin to decribe him. I detested the way he treated the stonemason.

 

The prose itself has all the grandeur and elevation of biblical passages - and quite frankly I was reaching for my dictionary a lot trying to make sense of the architecture and layout of this cathedral.

 

The prose, while torturous on occasion, was successful. The claustrophobia I felt, the dislike for Jocelin - was Golding's intention, and I can't fault him for his talent. But for those very reasons, I didn't like the book as a whole - it's successful parts did not make an enjoyable whole. I wholeheartedley agree with Chuntzy that I grew 'weary' of Jocelin and therefore his story.

 

ETA - one thing I did really enjoy, and this is a testament to Golding's vividness of style, was the descriptions of the 'squealing pillars' and I think these parts of the novel earned the 2 stars!

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Whilst I'm disappointed more people didn't get on with The Spire I suppose I'm not surprised. It's a book that is driven more by ideas and the craft of writing than a strong story, though ultimately that is a large part of what I love about it. I think this is a beautiful book, about as perfectly constructed as a literary novel can be, which is appropriate, given that it is a novel about 'structure'!

 

Clearly Jocelin has been a factor in some people's lack of interest, which surprises me just a little. We've explored elsewhere that you don't have to like a character for a book to be interesting, so I wonder if there are elements of his presentation that have created this lack of engagement? I'm actually going to start a thread just on Jocelin if people want to explore that further.

 

One of the things I love is Golding's style. Although it's true that there are quite a few specialist terms for cathedral structures I don't think this has to be a drawback (I was content to have only a loose awareness of exactly which part was where in the layout of the building). On the whole his style is quite simply expressed and unembellished in linguistic terms, but it finds a muscular power and beauty for all that.

 

The descriptions of dust in the air or light or the experience of being up the spire are stunning and I felt utterly absorbed into the fabric of the cathedral and - more importantly - into Jocelin's outlook. The way in which the narrative slipped from a seemingly omniscient voice into stream-of-consciousness sections from Jocelin's point of view again felt simple, yet was achieved with enormous skill.

 

The movement through the novel's journey from the light-filled cathedral to dusty fog, to rain-sodden flooding, to escape into the airy freedom high in the tower was an almost physical experience for me and just as the narrative gradually melds Jocelin with the cathedral so I felt myself becoming part of the novel's structures.

 

The rich symbolism was a great strength; not simply an ornamentation but a fundamental part of the novel's being. The manner of Jocelin's equation with the cathedral worked with such satisfying intricacy. His dark 'cellarage' with all its hidden weaknesses contrasting with the high reaches of the spire - a desire for something greater that is just pencilled-in, looking up to God just as he looks above people, but ultimately to something that isn't there. The spire also as a phallus, the massive addition to the cathedral's body that fulfils the absence of sex in his celibate life. The crooked and crumbling spire as a link to his disease-ravaged spine - seemingly holy in his eyes but possibly a great evil. The four pillars equating to Roger, Goody, Pangall and Rachel, who bend and bow together and are ultimately found to be hollow. The creeping tree that grows throughout, embodied with the paganism that leads to Pangall's death and burial at the crossways with the mistletoe...

 

I could go on! There is such complexity to this imagery that ties together so beautifully and develops cumulative power - this for me is what helps to give the novel such a presence in the mind and truly exploits the potential of the novelistic form: this is something that can only be achieved through the process of reading and can only be forged as a true 'experience' in the mind.

 

But I also like the resolution, which is why it's a shame if people had switched off a little by then. As always with Golding, there is a change of persepctive at the end. In Lord of the Flies it was only in the last few pages with the landing of the naval officer providing an adult perspective suddenly on the boys' island. Here it's the arrival of the Visitor, who again gives an external perspective, starting to take us outside of Jocelin's view - if you like, replacing his 'vision' with actual vision. Now we see the events from a different angle as Jocelin starts to accept what has really happened and what it really means in terms of both him and fallen humanity as a whole. This right through to the imagistic conclusion as he slips from life and in doing so has a flashing sense of what it's all about in the concepts of the kingfisher and the apple tree. I like the fact that Golding doesn't try to spell this out exactly, that it's left as imperfectly perceived as was the moment of Pangall's murder, leaving a register on the subconscious rather than waking mind, yet somehow there is a sense of striking revelation in those moments.

 

Anyway, I'm going on already! If anyone wants to discuss it further I'm certainly game (and I'll start the Jocelin thread later), but I won't flog a dead horse, even if in my mind it's a thoroughbred racing for the finishing line! Perhaps like Jocelin my vision's been too overpowering! ;)

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Well that seems to have scared everyone off! That was partly why I wasn't keen to get in on the discussion early. Oh well.

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Well that seems to have scared everyone off! That was partly why I wasn't keen to get in on the discussion early. Oh well.

 

Actually, I did reply then, a few days afterwards, deleted it thinking it inadequate.

 

My main point, which didn't properly address your critique, was that unsympathetic protagonists don't usually put me off e.g Meursault in Camus' The Outsider or Mr Stevens in Remains of the Day (great novels). To be brutally frank, despite the quality of the writing, I was bored. Ashamed, I deleted my post.

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Ashamed, I deleted my post.

There's no need whatsoever to be ashamed of that. We all respond to different books in different ways and if it bored you then that's as valid a response as my enthusiasm. A book can be strong in some ways and weak in others and if you've enjoyed other Goldings I'm interested in why this didn't grab you so much.

 

Anyway, I don't want to labour it. I'm happy to leave it there.

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On ‎15‎/‎07‎/‎2008 at 12:05, David said:

Whilst I'm disappointed more people didn't get on with The Spire I suppose I'm not surprised. It's a book that is driven more by ideas and the craft of writing than a strong story, though ultimately that is a large part of what I love about it. I think this is a beautiful book, about as perfectly constructed as a literary novel can be, which is appropriate, given that it is a novel about 'structure'!

 

Clearly Jocelin has been a factor in some people's lack of interest, which surprises me just a little. We've explored elsewhere that you don't have to like a character for a book to be interesting, so I wonder if there are elements of his presentation that have created this lack of engagement? I'm actually going to start a thread just on Jocelin if people want to explore that further.

 

One of the things I love is Golding's style. Although it's true that there are quite a few specialist terms for cathedral structures I don't think this has to be a drawback (I was content to have only a loose awareness of exactly which part was where in the layout of the building). On the whole his style is quite simply expressed and unembellished in linguistic terms, but it finds a muscular power and beauty for all that.

 

The descriptions of dust in the air or light or the experience of being up the spire are stunning and I felt utterly absorbed into the fabric of the cathedral and - more importantly - into Jocelin's outlook. The way in which the narrative slipped from a seemingly omniscient voice into stream-of-consciousness sections from Jocelin's point of view again felt simple, yet was achieved with enormous skill.

 

The movement through the novel's journey from the light-filled cathedral to dusty fog, to rain-sodden flooding, to escape into the airy freedom high in the tower was an almost physical experience for me and just as the narrative gradually melds Jocelin with the cathedral so I felt myself becoming part of the novel's structures.

 

The rich symbolism was a great strength; not simply an ornamentation but a fundamental part of the novel's being. The manner of Jocelin's equation with the cathedral worked with such satisfying intricacy. His dark 'cellarage' with all its hidden weaknesses contrasting with the high reaches of the spire - a desire for something greater that is just pencilled-in, looking up to God just as he looks above people, but ultimately to something that isn't there. The spire also as a phallus, the massive addition to the cathedral's body that fulfils the absence of sex in his celibate life. The crooked and crumbling spire as a link to his disease-ravaged spine - seemingly holy in his eyes but possibly a great evil. The four pillars equating to Roger, Goody, Pangall and Rachel, who bend and bow together and are ultimately found to be hollow. The creeping tree that grows throughout, embodied with the paganism that leads to Pangall's death and burial at the crossways with the mistletoe...

 

I could go on! There is such complexity to this imagery that ties together so beautifully and develops cumulative power - this for me is what helps to give the novel such a presence in the mind and truly exploits the potential of the novelistic form: this is something that can only be achieved through the process of reading and can only be forged as a true 'experience' in the mind.

 

But I also like the resolution, which is why it's a shame if people had switched off a little by then. As always with Golding, there is a change of persepctive at the end. In Lord of the Flies it was only in the last few pages with the landing of the naval officer providing an adult perspective suddenly on the boys' island. Here it's the arrival of the Visitor, who again gives an external perspective, starting to take us outside of Jocelin's view - if you like, replacing his 'vision' with actual vision. Now we see the events from a different angle as Jocelin starts to accept what has really happened and what it really means in terms of both him and fallen humanity as a whole. This right through to the imagistic conclusion as he slips from life and in doing so has a flashing sense of what it's all about in the concepts of the kingfisher and the apple tree. I like the fact that Golding doesn't try to spell this out exactly, that it's left as imperfectly perceived as was the moment of Pangall's murder, leaving a register on the subconscious rather than waking mind, yet somehow there is a sense of striking revelation in those moments.

 

 

I agree with every word and would have loved to have explored this with you.

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