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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some light in the darkness, 12 May 2010
This review is from: Darkness Visible (Paperback)
Darkness Visible is a compelling and disturbing read. I was struck from first chapter by the degree of imaginative immersion Golding has in his subjects and characters. This hits you between the eyes as very unusual and is reason enough to read him. I don't, however think this a perfect novel, though for its type and for its audaciousness, it is extremely good and I want to read more.

Golding's service years which included helping sink the Bismark in 1940 were certainly drawn upon in the opening fire scene where we first meet our disparaged hero Matty as a child, alive yet profoundly scarred.

Golding captures the inchoate nature of thought and conversation, as well as the elusive verbal `clicking on first meeting' Sophy experiences when she meets Gerry (think Ian Brady and Myra). Furthermore, Golding explores the thought processes of children, not only un-mothered and unloved Matty but the psychopathic child Sophy. Golding was a father himself and had been a teacher before he resigned in 1961, so he knew one or two things about children, but the act of reaching inside the minds of these children and following their faulty (and in Sophy's case heartless) conclusions read like an act of writerly mediumship and stimulated memories of my own thinking processes as a child. Intriugingly, Golding was very interested in memory and the imagination and was only too aware that his story-telling self far outweighed access to his childhood memories. Golding also reaches into the mind of the pedophile teacher Mr Pedigree, a character so richly painted I felt convinced he must have met a fore-runner for Pedigree at some point in his life, perhaps as schoolboy or teacher.

The characters of Pedigree and Sophy add up to a sort of psychological profiling of sex criminals, criminals generally and terrorism itself, making this a peculiarly contemporary seeming novel (published 1979).

Matty, in his black clothing and wide-brimmed hat works as welcome spiritual counterpoint to the darkness of Sophy and Pedigree though Matty's methods are resolutely insular, at least until he penultimately meets Goodchild and Bell: middle-aged and disillusioned men who in their last-minute search for spiritual enlightenment think they have found in Matty a Gandhi. Loosely, these three characters represent the force of good in this novel. Goodchild and Bell are shown at resolution in a public enquiry in hand-held trance with Matty, and are ultimately held up as both ridiculous and suspect in the media and at court. Goodchild the bookseller is insistently blind in his appraisal of `the "beautiful" Sophy and only reluctantly disabused of this when he has no other choice. He is also like Sophy, mentally at least, racist.

I also felt disappointed that Matty, one of the few emblems of hope in this novel, was confused in his appraisal of Pedigree, insisting he is his `dear friend' when in truth, he is a sexual molester, who sits Matty at the back of his class behind a screen so that only the good side of his face shows, not the fire-scarred, grafted side. Additionally Pedigree holds Matty personally responsible when one of his adored charges kills himself. Matty's insistence on Pedigree's good therefore reads like masochism or turning the other cheek too far, as does his `baby out with the bathwater' sexuality, which he renounces entirely, seeing it as not in keeping with spiritual purity. Visionary that I think Golding was, sexuality wasn't generally seen to be in keeping with spirituality in the 1970's - that is a relatively modern idea.

When Golding returned from service, he said: "man produces evil as a bee produces honey", likewise he was described as a depressed man. This novel seems to be a fuller elaboration on this theme, where even the best are ridiculed, feared or despised.

Ultimately though, although this novel deals with darkness, Golding's distaste for cruel and disturbed characters is palpable. Darkness Visible therefore certainly has a heart and a moral compass. Golding seems to hint more than once that the answer lies with spirituality and though in one sense he backs down, the promise of Matty's spiritual guides that (the child at school Matty protects) shall bring the spiritual language into the world and nation shall speak it unto nation brings a sense of light and hope that is counter to the darkness.
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Initial post: 3 Feb 2014 15:26:44 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Feb 2014 15:31:25 GMT
Golding was an unpleasant man with an almost hysterical attitude to disability (as his behaviour shows when he discovered his own son had the (relatively) minor handicap of a club foot - which one biographer tells us was 'cured'). Golding claimed to have a spiritual dimension (being a 'theist' rather than an 'atheist' because he said he wasn't good enough to be a Christian) but that didn't stop him making grubby jokes. Having read all his books, I have come to the conclusion that his departure from deliberate obscurity (to relative clarity in his Rites of Passage Trilogy) was entirely due to commercial cynicism, the need he felt to sell more books.
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Review Details



D Webster

Location: Gloucester, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 8,529