Castaway : William Golding – “Pincher Martin”

Inferior to “Lord of the Flies” and “The Inheritors,” (and a much rockier read) William Golding’s “Pincher Martin” delights on the bleakness inherent in the conflict between man and nature, (hint: nature usually wins, and when it appears to be defeated, it is simply retreating to plan its revenge.)

ABOVE: That synopsis makes it sound like a tigerless “Life of Pi”

If I say “Pincher Martin” borrows from Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” I might be giving away too much- and making it sound like fun. Instead, most of “Pincher Martin” drags. The language is heavy – some would say leaden – particularly the early sections, that find Christopher “Pincher” Martin fitfully dragging himself up the rocky shores of the mysterious, purgatorial island in which he’s been hurled after a shipwreck.

There are fans for this novel, but I was left cold, (as if bathed in the freezing depths of an uncaring, primordial ocean, really.) Perhaps Golding’s pet thesis, about how we’re all one accident away from being reduced to bestial behavior, would have worked better if  the flashbacks didn’t reveal that Pincher was already out as a beast, long before the shipwreck.

The final sections, in all their fiery rage-at-the-heavens existentialism, do pick up, but then I was underwhelmed by the final revelation: It’s easy to see that it must have been a stunner in the 50s, but to this modern, jaded, plot-twist-sniffing reader, it adds nothing but flash, and may even diminish the efficacy of the intellectual argument.

“Pincher Martin” does provide the answer to the question: “What would it sound like if Virginia Woolf had written the pitch for ‘Lost’?” It’s just that I don’t think many people were asking.

RATING : Intellectually: COOL! Emotionally: SHRUG

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