Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 5, 2020

Rites of Passage (1980), by William Golding, winner of the Booker Prize in 1980

Reviews From the Archive

An occasional series, cross-posting my reviews from The Complete Booker.
To see my progress with completing the Complete Booker Challenge, see here.

Rites of Passage, by William Golding, won the Booker Prize in 1980.

February 23rd, 2008

Rites of Passage is Book One of a trilogy that was made into a BBC serial called To The Ends of The Earth, and it won the Booker in 1980. It’s a comi-tragic sea journey and a coming-of-age tale about Mr William Talbot, a young aristocrat on his way to Australia to take up a government position procured for him by his wealthy godfather.

En route, this rather naive, pompous and yet good-hearted young man learns a lot about the world and himself. As in Lord of the Flies, an isolated community tests the boundaries of civilised behaviour, and is found wanting. Reverend Colley, an irritating and fawning parson, is victimised and humiliated, subjected to barbaric rituals in the crossing-the-line ceremony, and then worse. When he wills himself to die of shame, Talbot is called on to help by Lieutenant Summers, a man who has worked his way up from the ranks — but in this decisive moment he risks his career by demanding of Talbot (his superior in British class-ridden society) that he take some responsibility for what has happened.

All efforts fail, and Talbot finds himself compromised by Captain Anderson’s ‘enquiry’. Having boasted about his journal of events, Talbot has made Anderson aware of the need to cover up his own aggressive behaviour towards Colley — because it was that which made others on board feel that they could bully him with impunity. The enquiry is a whitewash and Talbot is left with no recourse but to lie to Colley’s family about the truth.

The TV series went on with other events including the near loss of the ship in the Antarctic, boarding by another ship, a romance for Talbot and the death of the atheist Pettigrew. I’d like to read the sequels on which these are based if they’re as good as this one was, deftly written in a C19th seafaring style and showing Talbot’s painful self-growth towards maturity.

I finished reading and journalled this book on 23.2.2008.



  1. I have a copy of the trilogy in my Mt TBR. I can even see it :-). Apart from ‘Lord of the Flies’, I’ve read ‘Pincher Martin’. Both made quite an impact on me.


    • Pincher Martin was a real shock to me, I had no idea that he could write like that. The man was a genius.


  2. Hi Lisa
    I really enjoyed all three parts of the To The Ends of the Earth Trilogy, but do think that Rites of Passage is the best book of the three, although again, I must admit it is a while since I read them.. it must have been around 1993-1995, as I do recall reading or re reading Golding just after his death. I particularly found Close Quarters lacked some of the immediacy of the more diary-like style of Rites of Passage, but the final volume Fire Down Below did rekindle some more interest for me (sorry).
    My favorite Golding still remains The Inheritors, a gripping account of a confrontation between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon-like early homo sapiens people, told mostly from the Neanderthal’s perspective. It is interesting that he chose to write this straight after the successful publication of Lord of the Flies, still his most well known and widely read book by far, but, while by no means his best, it represents the best modern “Robinsonade” novel.
    As in the example with Iris Murdoch’s The Sea The Sea, I do wonder if the award of the Booker and the Nobel prize for Rites of Passage was another Lifetime Achievement award. Still, your review has prompted me to take Rites down from the shelf of the Goldings (I have then all) to read again.
    Best wishes


    • I agree about The Inheritors, I came across it at the library and could not put it down. (I’ve reviewed it here on the blog). Marvellous book, really wonderful.


  3. I’m another who read the trilogy a long time ago, so it was good to be reminded of its quality.


    • You must be psychic, Simon… I am just writing a post about how we bloggers like to be reminded of books we read a long time ago…


  4. The characterisation of Talbot was the key factor in my enjoyment of this book along with way the narrative changed from being a slightly comic tale to one that was disquieting.


    • I think that’s what makes Farrell’s books so engaging, the way he sees the funny side of life even in the midst of disaster,


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