0355 | Rites of Passage | William Golding

0355 | Rites of Passage | William Golding

Context: Saw the most amazing sunset on a language survey in Tsiletsile (aka Bencheng) while reading this. Why was it amazing? Well, this is the view looking East!


William Golding is, for every British schoolchild of my generation, associated so strongly with the set text Lord of the Flies that it’s hard to believe he wrote anything else. But he did and if Rites is anything to go by, it is excellent.

Told in the first person as a letter to his sponsor, Rites is the story of a young and ignorant government officer on his first voyage overseas to 19th century Australia. The novel is set entirely on the voyage with not a scene taking place on dry land.

Golding has done a magnificent job in evoking the setting and era that it was hard to believe that this was written in 1980 as opposed to 1880. I was captivated by this right from the start by what at first appears to be a farce but quickly moves from comedy to tragedy.

Edmund Talbot is a young man with his head very firmly placed up his own aristocratic posterior. You never really like him from the get go and although you find his naivety laughable, you’re sobered by the thought that he is on his way to a position of immense responsibility in the new colony and that many will suffer as a result of his myopic pride.

As in Lord of the Flies, you have society in microcosm bound not by the relative vastness of an island, but by the confines of cabin quarters on a ship that has seen better days. You know that it’s going to go horribly wrong.

And wrong it does go in particular for the Reverend Colley who, despite being as young and ignorant as Talbot, has none of the protection aristocracy brings. He is the Piggy-esque figure who falls foul of society and it is his demise which causes the crisis for the community.

I really enjoyed this and was delighted to find that this Booker-Winner is the first of a trilogy. Wonderful!


Honoured godfather. With those words I begin the journal I engaged myself to keep for you – no words could be more suitable!


“Hawkins, the claret if you please! This geranium you see, Mr Talbot, has some disease of the leaf. I have dusted it with Bowers of sulphur but to no effect. I shall lose it no doubt. But then, sir, he who gardens at sea must accustom himself to loss. On my first voyage in command I lost my whole collection.”

“Through the violence of the enemy?”

“No sir, through the uncommon nature of the weather which held us for whole weeks without either wind or rain. I could not have served water to my plants. There would have been mutiny. I see the loss of this one plant as no great matter.”

“Besides, you may exchange it for another at Sydney Cove.”

“Why must you –”

He turned away and stowed the waterpot in a box down by the plants. When he turned back I saw the creases in his cheeks again and the sparks in his eyes.

“We are a long way and a long time from our destination, Mr Talbot.”


I saw them in my mind’s eye as smug and self-righteous as a convocation of Methodists.

“In our country for all her greatness there is one thing she cannot do and that is translate a person wholly out of one class into another, perfect translation from one language to another is impossible. Class is the British language.”


With lack of sleep and too much understanding I grow, a little crazy, I think, like all men at sea who live too close to each other and too close thereby to all that is monstrous under the sun and moon.


0355 | Rites of Passage | Golding | 86% | Excellent

Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style Read more about how I come up with my ratings

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