An old university friend recently emailed me and mentioned that had just enjoyed reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Now I read this back at school when I was about fifteen (I’ve just noticed that my copy has the label “Education Edition” on the front cover – whatever that is supposed to signify?!) but can still remember the effect it had on me.  (Dear Mr Reynolds, your efforts to foster in us a love of books (or perhaps simply to get us to read a book) were not entirely wasted on everyone!). So, after my friend’s recent enjoyment of this boyhood classic, I decided to re-read it myself.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

If you’ve never had the pleasure of reading Lord of the Flies, the basic premise is that a group of British schoolboys find themselves suddenly stranded on an uninhabited island after the plane they were travelling in comes down. The novel is then an exploration into what lies within the human heart when all of the constraining elements of civilised society are taken away. To begin with, the boys act in accordance with the expectations they have picked up from their home lives and their boarding schools, creating rules and order and plans. However soon these rules and plans are challenged as some of the boys start following other more primitive instincts…

There is so much to marvel at in this book – it really is a masterclass in fine writing. The characters first and foremost are so totally real; who could ever forget Piggy or Simon or Jack after reading this? Golding so brilliantly captures their individual speech patterns, their habits, their views and their individual characters. Here is one excerpt from when Ralph and Piggy first meet:

“I could swim when I was five. Daddy taught me. He’s a commander in the Navy. When he gets leave he’ll come and rescue us. What’s your father?”

Piggy flushed suddenly.

“My dad’s dead,” he said quickly, “and my mum—“

He took off his glasses and looked vainly for something with which to clean them.

“I used to live with my auntie. She kept a sweet-shop. I used to get ever so many sweets. As many as I liked. When’ll your dad rescue us?”

“Soon as he can.”

Re-reading the novel now, I was struck by just how gripping it actually is. After the initial chapter or two, when the island’s society starts to show signs of disintegrating, you get a sense that things are going to continue to unravel more and more, yet each new move away from civilized behaviour still shocks. The development of the plot is so perfectly carried out, it is like watching a series of time bombs go off in slow motion, with each blast followed up by its ripples of destruction. This is compelling prose if ever I read any.

The novel is also so precisely written; each page seems to contain significant events or memorable dialogue, often woven with dramatic irony. Because of this, so much is communicated in just a few pages. It reminded me of The Great Gatsby in this respect, in that there is so much conveyed in each scene, in each exchange and in each phrase. Not a word is wasted; there is no padding here.

In the recesses of my memory, I knew that William Golding had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but what I didn’t know was that this was his first novel. Imagine that – the very first time you sit down and write a novel you come up with something as brilliant, as sharp and as memorable as this. Incredible. A great novel.