Friday, June 05, 2009

book review - The Spire - William Golding


William Golding is one of those authors who ends up as a staple on English exam syllabuses because he is almost poetic in his use of imagery and symbolism. That means of course that you have to invest some concentration to get the point of what he is trying to say and to take the full ramifications of his sometimes oblique references to significant events.

The result can often be disappointing for your casual, non exam preparing reader, who doesn't sit in a classroom going through it line by line working out that the colour red might stand not only for love but danger. The crux of the story is around the belief held by Jocelin, the dean of the cathedral that the structure can support a spire. He gets the funding from a rich aunt who then makes demands on him that he is unwilling to fulfil. But he is also deaf against the remonstrations of the builders and the master builder Roger Mason that the structure cannot support a spire. The lack of foundations are seen by Jocelin as a test of faith and by the builder as a challenge to sanity.

But added to that conflict there is a challenge for Jocelin in fighting his attraction to Goody Pangall, the wife of a much mocked servant who helps clean the cathedral. When he discovers an affair between the red haired woman and Mason he is torn not just by anger and grief but also by jealousy. He has failed to protect the servant, kept adultery out of the cathedral and not been able to reach or teach any of the parties involved.

The stress here is on whet do you believe. In Fire Down Below there is a similar argument about the prospect of a fire developing in the hold of a ship. It becomes a question of faith and divides the ship's crew.

Here Jocelin badgers and protests until the end when the spire is built. But he loses his mind, position and faith as things unravel. Goody dies in childbirth losing her life as well as mason's baby. that drives the master builder to drink and as the church authorities move to dismiss Jocelin there appear to be no winners in the battle of the spire. As he breathes his last Jocelin is told the spire is still standing but that it is expected to fall any day and cause damage to the building. Will it fall? That of course is the sort of question of faith that has driven the dean to madness.

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