Here’s another historical fiction which takes place aboard a ship in the 19th century and involves murders. (Ho-hum) The North Water took place in the Arctic circa 1859 and includes several murders, Rites of Passage takes place in the South Seas off of Australia circa 1815 and involves suicides, and the next book I’ll review, His Bloody Project, takes place in Scotland in 1859, there are no ships there but the tale involves murders.
Rites of Passage
by William Golding
1980/ 292 pages (Kindle)
rating: 8 – literary historical fiction
1st in the trilogy To the Ends of the Earth
This story is told in the form of a journal written by Edmund Talbot, a young English gentleman on board a ship to Australia in 1815. The journal itself becomes an important part of the plot.
Talbot describes the passengers and daily doings of all classes which is a major theme of the book. There are a few characters who fall outside of the usual class structure, the minister Colley, Captain Anderson and possibly Lieutenant Summers. The major plot theme is the disgrace and ultimate fall of Rev. Colley.
The historical part of the rating is superb – the language and events are all within the range of possibility. There is not a shred of the anachronistic here – not in the basics or the attitudes or the ideas –
The literary elements are all there with the theme of man’s inhumanity to man (again) as well as class structure being the major themes. The idea of shame is hugely important. Actually, the way Golding presented the history is literary in itself – very, very well done – It possibly could have been written in 1815.
Still – even though I recognize its ultimate literary value – destined to become a classic in a few years, I didn’t like it. I don’t like stories which take place on old ships although as I said in the prior review of The North Waters, Moby Dick was good.