cover image Close Quarters

Close Quarters

William Golding. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-374-12510-3

What began with Rites of Passage (1980) continues with this second volume of a planned trilogy. Nobel Laureate Golding again displays his accomplished storytelling, not to mention an intimidating command of all things maritime at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Although it lacks deeper levels of significance, this is a rousing tale of the tragic misadventures befalling an 18th century fighting ship now converted to transporting cargo and passengers on the treacherous voyage from England to Australia. The novel is cast as a journal written by Edmund FitzHenry Talbot, a well-meaning, somewhat uncertain, slightly pompous officer and gentleman enroute to Sydney and a career in His Majesty's service. As a result of a green sailor's blunder, the ship's masts shatter, and it founders. Golding's principal achievement is the vivid, detailed depiction of a disintegrating vessel in the tropical seas, its progressive decay, and the wretchedness and despair of its passengers. None of this prevents a chaste, mannerly romance between Talbot and a sweet young thing. At the end, which Talbot himself calls ""abrupt,'' it seems doubtful the ship will survive its ordeal. Howor whetherit does awaits the third volume. (June)