To the Ends of the Earth: A Sea Trilogy
Rites of Passage, the first novel of this trilogy, won the Booker Prize; Golding is also a Nobel laureate, a master of language, using English to create, in these three books, the enclosed world that is a sailing ship heading for Australia.
Rites of Passage centres on the story of Reverend Colley, and it is tragic, a shocking episode that is typical Golding. But here his narrator, Edmund Talbot, is that rare thing, a comic Golding character that is often foolish. Readers see through his eyes, and are able, sometimes, to laugh.
The ship’s crew and passengers reflect the spectrum of 19th century English society. We see these characters, the disgruntled captain, his officers, the motley crew and the passengers, interacting with Edmund. Readers often understand more than he does, which provides a comic twist. But Edmund is not merely a caricature, he is a three-dimensional character who grows through the three books from a conceited youth to a more thoughtful young man, and because he does, often in spite of himself, the reader is left with hope, not despair.
By the end of the voyage, and the trilogy, there is happiness for Talbot, in love, and with a promising future, but not so for all the other characters. A very Golding ending.
The trilogy is a superb read. Historical detail is excellent, the characters are fascinating, and the story itself nail biting. Will there be mutiny; will the ship reach Sydney Cove? Add to that the quality of William Golding’s writing and you have a book to re-read with as much pleasure as when you first read it.