by William Golding
Available from Amazon
William Golding’s ‘The Spire’ is the sort of book that you read at your own risk.
The book challenged my thinking, disturbed my emotions, unsettled my presuppositions, exercised my intellect, and for such a tortured book, inadvertently consoled my spirit. How many books achieve that end?
Who is not familiar with the concept of mankind’s desire to aspire to something greater than himself? Dean Jocelin is no exception. Believing that God has chosen him to build a spire on top of the already unstable foundations of a cathedral, he relentlessly and stubbornly pursues the insurmountable task in the face of both opposition and reason. The spire is an architectural impossibility, being built upon an already over-weighted existing structure. However, neither the Master Builder’s resistance nor the multiple confronting forces both around him and within deter Jocelin from what he perceives to be God’s call. The process is deeply tortured and the Dean is comforted neither by the encouragement of his fellow men nor God Himself.
The stream of consciousness narrative is not for the faint hearted. I don’t profess to have understood every word but Golding’s penmanship nevertheless worked its magic.
In his Nobel Lecture given in 1983, Golding himself said:
Words may, through the devotion, the skill, the passion and the luck of writers, prove to be the most powerful thing in the world’.
There is tremendous breadth of subject matter in Golding’s novels which, according to the Nobel Foundation ‘illuminate the human condition in the world today’, ‘with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth’. The writer’s own struggle and effort (he was haunted into adulthood by a lifelong fear of the dark) are reflected in Jocelin’s Macbeth-like overarching ambition, on one level a tremendous testimony to the force of human resolve and on another a terrifying indictment of his pride, arrogance and presumption.
Despite the passion of his vision, Jocelin is blind to the tuberculosis that is gradually claiming his life believing that the fluctuations in the physical pain he experiences are in fact a personal devil or angel at his back. He is blind to the fact that it was his aunt’s sexual influence at court that resulted in his promotion to the lofty position of Dean rather than his own merits. He is blind to the reality of Goody Pagnall’s earthy character and appetites and in denial about his own. But Jocelin is also blind to the God to whom he reaches out, seeing Him as a distant unattainable deity rather than the compassionate and loving Father brought near to us in the person of Christ – Himself the sure foundation.