Courage, Wisdom, and Love — The Children of Lovers: A Memoir of William Golding by His Daughter by Judy Golding


From the Publisher:

“Bestselling novelist, author of Lord of the Flies, William Golding was a famously acute observer of children. What was it like to be his daughter?

In this frank and engaging family memoir, Judy Golding recalls growing up with a brilliant, loving, sometimes difficult parent. The years of her childhood and adolescence saw her father change from an impecunious schoolteacher to a famous novelist. Once adult, she came to understand some of the internal conflicts which led to his writing.

The Golding family life, both ordinary and extraordinary, always kept its characteristic warmth, humour, complexity, anger and love, danger and insecurity. This is a book about family and parents, about lovers and their children, and about our impact on one another — for good or ill.”

“The children of lovers, says the proverb, are orphans.”

Presumably referring to her own mother and father, Judy Golding introduces her memoir with this epigraph to suggest that lovers are too involved with each other to make good parents. This bit of proverbial wisdom is soon eclipsed, however, by the author’s compelling portrait of a father-daughter relationship that transcends both the book’s purported theme and its illustrious subject. Lovers may or may not make good parents, but every father is both a hero and a villain to his daughter — especially when they are as alike as William and Judy Golding, whose memoir is a masterful display of psychologically nuanced insight into the emotional havoc wreaked by a powerful father on his equally strong-willed daughter. That Judy’s father happened to be the Nobel-Prize-winning, household-name author of Lord of the Flies is almost incidental to the myth.

Distinguished by its sophisticated style and structure, its pacing, character development, and unconventional use of time, the narrative weaves backwards and forwards, reflecting the temperamental shifts of her characters…

Writing in the wake of John Carey’s recent William Golding biography, Judy’s insider version of this towering public figure offers readers the intimate details missing from his official life story, yet not, as she admits to her audience at the Telegraph Ways With Words festival, without trepidation at revealing family secrets: “I hesitated hugely… I know that I come over as quite angry and in a sense you have to be fueled by a sort of anger. But I certainly don’t regret it.” So, go at it she does — with a fiction writer’s hand — dramatically portraying the crippling self-doubt accompanying her father’s narcissism as well as the phobias that made him so hard to live with and, paradoxically, drove him to create. How she manages this without indulging in the tasteless revelations common to so many memoirs of famous lives is a mark of her own literary gifts. Distinguished by its sophisticated style and structure, its pacing, character development, and unconventional use of time, the narrative weaves backwards and forwards, reflecting the temperamental shifts of her characters as they react to the dramas orchestrated by the family patriarch. Opening with a heart-stopping real-life maritime disaster paralleling her father’s actual wartime traumas and fictional preoccupations, Judy, as both participant and observer, analyzes the effects of such misadventures on his family:

“Life in our boats, sordid by many people’s standards (including those of my grandparents)… became a staple of our family’s experience, shared with a very few other people, and often — later — testing our endurance and courage and loyalty. It was a world with dangers, fierce necessities and obligations, which we all accepted. We would have been different without it. So, I suspect, would my father’s books. And the Seahorse holidays were also the first of our family voyages, those bits of life and perhaps escape, outside normality when — maybe through isolation and hence appreciating each other — we actually talked.”

— p. 19

Time and again, Judy and her older brother David are subjected to their father’s similarly obsessive tests of “endurance and courage and loyalty” while their mother, Ann, silently stands by. When David proves unworthy, or, in his father’s eyes, incapable, weak, or disinterested, Bill turns his attention entirely on his daughter. Born with an undeveloped foot, David, seen as “a frail figure” by his mother, is left to her protection. The family lines are drawn early on: Bill’s brave little clone, Judy, on one side and Ann’s “frail,” mentally unstable David on the other. As a child, and even later, Judy revels in her alliance with her daring, deliberately rumpled, heroic father in his “unsmart” clothes and “straggly beard.” To the consternation of her stunning ladylike mother, she affects Bill’s mannish, unkempt posture, slinks around with her hands in her pockets, and imitates his low husky voice. Though inwardly cowed by him, the adoring but unusually clear-eyed girl nonetheless maintains enough objectivity to acknowledge her father’s “Faustian… dangerous side, mostly though not entirely hidden from his daughter. The trouble was it held some of his strength along with the danger” (p. 39).


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