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This review is taken from PN Review 57, Volume 14 Number 1, September - October 1987.

BIRTHDAY OFFERINGS William Golding, the Man and his Books: A Tribute on his 75th Brithday, edited by John Carey (Faber and Faber) £12.50

In theory, a tribute of this kind should have provided an extremely useful framework for the analysis of its subject's complex talent: a survey which by its very nature involves a variety of perspectives seems entirely appropriate to a writer in whose work, as Mark Kinkead-Weekes notes in his contribution to this volume, 'patterns of insight multiply' to a point at which the very concept of pattern disintegrates. The volume's editor, John Carey, who himself pointedly refers in his interview with Golding to the friction between 'the imaginative creativity which multiplies viewpoints, and the moral absolutism which ultimately would want to cancel them out, and leave only one', has clearly aimed at a fruitful diversity: in his preface, he emphasizes the fact that each of the writers commissioned to discuss the life and personality of Golding stands in a different relation to his subject; that those whose contributions have a more literary focus have written in the absence of any limiting editorial directive; and that the remaining contributors were explicitly requested to be 'as idiosyncratic and personal as they liked'. 'The result', Carey remarks with satisfaction, 'is suggestively miscellaneous'.

If this celebration actually seems a rather lacklustre affair, the chief fault lies not in the original conception but in the shoddiness of far too many of the individual contributions, a number of which read as if they had been produced in considerable haste. Stephen Medcalf's memoir is a case in point: most readers, it is true, will ...


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