cover image Fire Down Below

Fire Down Below

William Golding. Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.95 (313pp) ISBN 978-0-374-25381-3

The conclusion of the trilogy he began with the Booker Prize-winning Rites of Passage (1980) and followed with Close Quarters (1987), Nobel Laureate Golding's densely complex, subtle and exacting latest novel tussles intriguingly with thematic and formal problems that have occupied the author in his previous works. The present trilogy enriches itself by self-consciously playing off its fictional precursors in a number of dimensions, including, most obviously, that of the voyage of self-discovery. In relating an almost year-long voyage (in the Napoleonic era) from England to the Antipodes of a motley band of passengers and the crew of a decrepit former man-o'-war as they experience many of life's dramas, the trilogy evokes tales by Melville, Voltaire and Homer among others. And the novels may be further interpreted not only as the Bildungsroman of aristocratic young narrator, Edmund FitzHenry Talbot, by means of myth's revelatory reversal that exposes the disjunction between appearances and reality, but also (given the autobiographical details) as a means to Golding's own ironic self-discovery. The narrative's beautiful, otherworldly descriptions of the sea and air, as the ship, twice damaged by errors of judgment on the part of its younger officer, flounders in terrifyingly heavy seas, evoke a metaphysical, mythic dimension. This rich and problematical text resists facile interpretation even as it delights through Golding's witty and poetic evocation of the language of the period. (Feb . )