William Golding has to be best know for his famous novel ‘Lord of the Flies’, a novel I’ve not read since school, but is a story of savagery in an isolated and trapped environment not dissimilar to the ship in Rites of Passage.
Rites of Passage tells the story of Talbot, and young English gentleman en route to Australia (we’re not sure why specifically) on an old war ship, who is recording his journey in a journal for the audience of his uncle.
Talbot is a novice in the maritime life, shown in his excitement to learn the ways of the men onboard
“I have laid my Marine Dictionary by my pillow; for I am determined to speak the tarry language as perfectly as any of these rolling fellows”
And much later when describing a funeral onboard
“This ceremonious naval occasion was one of great interest to me! One seldom attends a funeral in such, dare I call them, exotic surroundings!”
The book is written with a lighthearted air (note the multiples exclamation marks in the quote above) in a conversational, informal tone as if Talbot is hurriedly telling the story minute by minute. But the book has a number of more threatening undertones, a malicious and manipulative captain and the uncertainty of what is going on in other parts of the ship, made all the more mysterious by the creaking and groaning of an old boat at sea. In relation to this, Talbot writes of his cabin as a hutch which reminded me of a small animal returning to its place of safety, but also reflecting how trapped you are onboard a ship.
Despite the old fashioned language the novel felt easy to read, much more readable than any number of other winners I’ve read so far, but I’d say this is more of a day to day book than a ‘save it up for your big summer holiday’ read.
Some favourites quotes:
“Well, I thought to myself, these is this in common between Good Men and cinders – we must never disappoint them!”
“Here we are, suspended between the land below the eaters and the sky like a nut in a branch or a leaf on a pond!”