Thursday, August 1, 2013

Book Review: Lord of the Flies

You know what I consider to be a really good weekend? One in which I have time to curl up with a good book undisturbed and be able to finish the book by the time the weekend bids adieu. It doesn't happen very often but when it does, it leaves me feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. Well, that is exactly what I was able to do last weekend (yay!). My bookcase at home is crammed with so many books that I "was supposed" to read but never got around to doing. My pick this time round was Lord of the Flies, a book I'm embarrassed to admit that I'd never even heard of until a few years ago. 

The Lord of the Flies is a 1954 allegorical novel written by Nobel prize winning English author William Golding. It is classic literature which has long since made its foray into reading material for schools, colleges and English literature courses for its thought-provoking take on human nature. It is also somewhat controversial for its dark and disturbing subject matter. My copy had the preface penned by Stephen King. I enjoyed reading his account of the circumstances leading up to his reading Lord of the Flies for the very first time, a book which profoundly resonated with him as a young boy and has evidently influenced him as a writer to this day.   

Before I proceed further, let me warn you that this review is ridden with spoilers so if you have been meaning to read this book then scoot!

The Lord of the Flies is a story of a group of young English school boys who find themselves on a deserted island following a plane crash. At first, the boys are excited by the prospect of not being under any adult supervision and feel free to run wild and do as they please. But being accustomed to living by rules all their life, they soon they decide to bring in some form of structure and organization into their unruly existence and a natural leader among the boys emerges. With the help of a conch which helps to reinforce his dominance and position in the group, Ralf prioritizes the tasks for the boys which are constructing shelters for safety and setting up a smoke signal in the hope of being rescued by a passing ship. But where Ralf represents all that is good in civilization, his antagonist Jack embodies the savagery of the human race. Jack who is also a natural leader, demonstrates streaks of violence and barbarism early on with an insatiable hunger to hunt animals and kill. He shows little or no interest in partaking in any other activities of the group. After the little boy with a mulberry shaped birthmark goes missing, whispers of a beast on the island start to terrorize the boys and the severed head of a sow on a pole is discovered by another young boy, disquieting and mysterious events begin to unfold. An ensuing power struggle between Ralf and Jack divides the group into survivors and hunters, paving the way to dystopia which forms the climax of the story. The discovery of the beast, the deaths of some of the boys and a blazing fire which begins to engulf the island form the sequence of events that lead towards a spine-chilling finish to this harrowing adventure. 

My thoughts....
The first half of the book delves into island life and the survival mechanisms that the boys adopt in unfamiliar surroundings. The writer's vivid description of the island paints an inspired picture in the mind's eye, a picture inundated with images of the sea, lagoon, reef, palm trees, scar, mountain and an unforgiving jungle. It is beautiful yet strangely ominous. As a reader, somewhere mid-way through the book I started to feel my interest begin to dwindle but that didn't last very long as I was drawn back in at the turning point in the story. As time goes by on the island and the boys feral instincts begin to take over, you see a gradual and startling metamorphosis of most of the characters into an entity completely unrecognizable from their first introduction on the island. The provocative showcasing of a group of ordinary, educated and civilized boys regressing into savagery is gripping. There are parts of the story which are not explicit and are left to the interpretation of the reader. That being said, the hidden symbolism cannot be missed, take for example the conch shell, Piggy's glasses, the beast, the lord of the flies and the fire. As you are reading, you know there is more depth to those symbols than what meets the eye. As the saying goes, the biggest fear is the fear of the unknown and it is made known to the reader through the spiritual and somewhat visionary Simon that the beast is not a physical being but is an intangible presence that lurks within all of us. It is a manifestation of the human mind and rears its ugly head when the line between good and evil slips into oblivion. The last hundred pages of the book are by far the most intriguing with certain portions outright terrifying. In general, the prose is simple and straightforward. Coming to the characters, I wouldn't say that they are well developed save the exception of Ralf and Piggy. I wished that there was a little more understanding and depth to the rest of the characters. 

If you were expecting a book about angelic children being merry on a tropical island and having the time of their lives, then you will be in for a rude shock. This book describes children probably the way they would behave if left to their own devices. You could argue with the writer's pessimism but that would entirely be based on a subjective evaluation. Do you believe that man is inherently evil when there is no governing authority or law to suppress those feelings and actions? That my friends is food for thought and unfortunately beyond the scope of this review. Moving on, the book highlights the stark contrasts between individual perception versus collective group thinking. It shows you what it is rebel yet at the same time, to succumb to peer pressure. It gives an insight into human psychology and how circumstances can drastically change a person irrespective of the fact that they know right from wrong. That even the brightest mind with a moral compass can sometimes stumble. By the end of the reading experience, you will come to understand the death of innocence that is brought on by the darkness that is inherent in human nature. Is it graphic? Yes. Is it disturbing? Most definitely. But can you honestly say that you could never anticipate something like this happening in real life? Probably not. Sad but true....

Although I wouldn't include this book among my favorites, I wish this book would have been a part of a reading exercise / review of classic literature / the subject for debate during my school years. For a young mind, it would have made for some incredibly stimulating and interesting discussion about human nature and a great exercise in introspection. 

My rating for this book is

Have you read this book? If yes, what did you think about it? I would love to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment to let me know....


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