Tuesday July 20th, 2010

William Golding by John Carey

william-goldingTo write this, the first biography of the Nobel Prize-winning author of Lord of the Flies, Carey, a prominent British critic and academic, was given access to unpublished novels and thousands of pages of private journals. William Boyd believes “it is unlikely that this biography will ever be bettered or superseded,” and several other reviewers seem to agree. “Carey,” Boyd says, “writes with great wit and lucidity as well as authority and compassionate insight.”

Given that Golding’s life could be quiet and bleak — he was full of class resentment, over-sensitive to criticism, and prone to episodes of embarrassing drunkenness — “it’s among Mr. Carey’s achievements,” Dwight Garner says, “that this plump and well-researched biography sits lightly in the lap; it reads like a picaresque novel.”

Reviews in Carey’s home country are equally positive. In the Independent, DJ Taylor writes, “One of the great advantages of Carey’s treatment is its unrelenting focus on the way in which a writer’s life is lived at bedrock – how much he gets for his books, what the editor thinks and what the critics say – and the inner demons to which this solitary existence is prey.” Taylor is also thorough (and funny) about the issue of class resentment.

In the Times Literary Supplement, Allan Massie concludes that, “Carey treats [Golding] with sympathy and intelligence, eschewing any attempt at amateur psychoanalysis of this complicated man and writer. . . . this is an admirable and continuously interesting literary biography.” In his review for the Guardian, Blake Morrison shines some light on an odd, formative sexual experience of Golding’s, and also notes that the book benefits from its focus on Charles Monteith, Golding’s longtime editor: “[It was] a 40-year relationship as crucial as Scott Fitzgerald’s with Max Perkins or Raymond Carver’s with Gordon Lish.”

William Golding by John Carey
Free Press, 592 pp., $32.50