On the second anniversary of William Golding’s death, his last novel The Double Tongue is being published. David Harris discovers the inﬂuence the Nobel Prize- winning author wields from the
A few years ago. William Golding was in India lecturing on his work when a member of the audience rose and asked provocatively: ‘Sir William. why don't you ever write about women." It was a challenge the Nobel laureate couldn't ignore: the
questioner was his wife.
Now. on the second anniversary of his death. we have the opportunity to read his response. Set in the lst century BC. The Double 'Iongue is the memoir of Arieka. a young woman chosen to be the l’ythia. the priestess of Apollo at Delphi responsible for delivering the oracles. Although it was still in draft form at the time of Golding's death. the narrative is complete. and is an uncharacteristicalIy wry depiction of the decline of Greek myth and language as Roman ‘civilisation‘ swept through Europe.
There is perhaps an ironic self-portrait distributed between the two main characters -— the l’ythia. inspired by the gods yet doubting her own powers. and the cynical priest lonides. who translates the divine wisdom for public consumption. As Faber and
chance to rcappraise him.‘
.S‘S‘S'S'n ‘ William Golding: literary heavyweight I Faber chairman Matthew Evans recalls. Golding regarded his own creative urge as a great imposition. * ‘You often come across writers who don‘t know why they write.‘ he says. ‘and with Golding that was very marked. He once told me that when he ﬁnished a novel he would be absolutely relieved. but after a few months he'd get a sensation in his arm and he would feel that he was being possessed again by the need to write. It was as if there was a force he did not understaml that compelled him.‘ Faber and Faber intend to bring out Golding's diaries in the near future. but Evans insists they will 3 avoid the barrel-scraping often accompanying an I author‘s death. ‘lf we felt that The Double Tongue reflected badly on Golding as a writer. we wouldn't have published it. bill the view of his family and editors was that it was a significant work.‘ And he adds. "l‘he publication will give everybody the
lan McEwan. whose fiction often focuses on the darker side of human nature. acknowledges an early debt to Golding. ‘The first novel 1 wanted to write was a kind of urban Lord oflhe Flies.‘ he admits. ‘but I don‘t think he had an obvious. discernible effect on my generation. He’s an interesting case because in a way he stood alone. His novels were enormously liked and hugely respected. but one of the magnificent things about him is that he was so much his own writer: he just didn‘t seem to connect with much else in the British tradition.‘
Despite a conspicuous and almost relentless exploration ofthc nature ofevil. Golding's fiction is notable for its formal variety. a trait McEwan sees as evidence of visionary integrity. ‘l think he was an innocent. in the very best sense. really true to himself. When you compare. say. Ri/es o/‘l’ussuge to g The Spire. you wouldn‘t guess they're by the same writer. it seemed as if he reinvented himself for each
‘He was an innocent, in the very best sense, really true to himself. . . He’s a great writer. There’s no one remotely
book. so that one didn't get a sense of cumulative energy. That may have affected his reputation. but for me it doesn't affect the quality of the work one jot. I'm quite sure of his place in English literature: I think he‘s a great writer. There's no one remotely like
Golding may be experiencing a slight dip in critical regard at the moment. but the intimate tone of The Double Tongue reveals another aspect of his talents. and as long as Ralph and Piggy run their desert island risks. his name will endure. a fact highlighted during the 1983 Nobel Prize ceremony. As the author was presented to his Swedish hosts. King Gustaf shook his hand warmly. ‘lt is a great pleasure to meet you. Mr Golding.‘ he said. ‘l had to do Lon! of/he Flies at
The Double Tongue by ll’ll/uuu (ioh/ing is published on Monday /‘)//1 June by Faber and Faber a! [12.99.
The rest is history
Like Martin Amis’s literary device in Time’s Arrow, which set the clock running backwards to examine the Holocaust, political commentator and critic Mark Lawson’s first novel relies on a simple distortion to examine a big historical moment.
ldlewild has a single premise - what if John F. Kennedy had survived the assassination attempt in Dallas? In a book about fame and late, the title is the first clue - New York’s main airport, formerly known as ldlewild, would not have been renamed JFK had the president lived. In Lawson’s ‘what if’ scenario, Kennedy is re-elected, but his reputation as a 60s idealist
; quickly runs aground in Vietnam.
came to Lawson while covering the
1988 presidential campaign for The - Independent. The Kennedy presence in 3' i the Dukakis camp was almost tangible g As a ‘colour’ writer rather than a
Mark Lawson: better soundbites than Boss Perot
The idea for this political fantasy
remembers Lawson, who had already
been steeped in the JFK myth as a pupil at an American catholic school
in Hertfordshire. Lawson also admits to a voracious
5 appetite for the kind of conspiracy
theories that surround the Kennedy
' clan, and which are neatly lampooned . in ldlewild. At a conference for JFK
conspiracy nuts, one obsessive argues that the soap opera Dallas was an allegory of the Kennedy legend.
Lawson discovered that the JR 3 shooting episode was actually f screened on the eve of the
anniversary of the Kennedy shooting. ‘lt was obviously a (:38 network joke
but when I discovered it it was a very chilling momment,’ says Lawson.
‘Once you start that kind of game, the attraction of conspiracy theories is
i they can work out so well. For 3 instance no one’s ever known why Hixon was in Dallas on the day of the
straight political reporter, Lawson turned to fiction as a way of dealing with underlining meaning without the boring business of giving the facts. In his earlier satire Bloody Margaret, Lawson created a tictionalised Thatcher to say something about the real one. ‘There’s a lot you know which you can’t write because of the whole “off the record” thing and I wanted more freedom,’ he says. The folksy soundbites Lawson puts in»the mouth of the 1993 president (a thinly disguised Ross Perot) are far better than the real thing. ; Although ldlewild just about works as "
a novel driven by a Day of the Jackal- style sub-plot, but much of the humour relies on the reader ‘getting’ the American political and cultural references. The sharpness of the writing prevents a clever book becoming simply clever-clever. (Eddie Gibb) ldlewild is published on Friday 23 June ‘ by Picador at £9.99.
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