Golding is a masterful stylist - the prose in Pincher Martin is so visceral it hurts - and this novel rank among his best works, right up there with The Inheritors and Rites of Passage. Explorations of guilt, of insufficiency, of the pettiness of humankind, all written up in a language that barely leaves one room for reflection and recollection because it is so close to true, REAL experience. Golding works right at the interface between the thought and the felt; in that, he's like Cormac McCarthy, but whereas McCarthy vacillates between the two extremes of external and internal refractions of experience, Golding plunges in right in between the two. The process of "direct translation" is often imperfect - language that lays everything bare is often insufficient and confusing if one wants to paint the images of what is going on in one's mind (as is very often the case with Golding - a kind of 'strangled prose' that makes reading him so rewarding, and maddening, at the same time). But on the whole, the book is an amazing experience.
Christopher Martin - the main character of the book - is, for all his imperfections and decadence, given 'another chance' after causing a ship to be destroyed due to a revenge game he is playing. He gets stranded on a rocky island in the middle of the Atlantic, and contemplates his fate, hoping to be rescued, but plunging ever more deeply into madness as he reviews the pettiness of his actions. But he fails his chance to be redeemed. And the ending makes it clear that there is no way he could possibly
have been redeemed. In Golding's early novels, this is the inevitable fate of humanity. In The Inheritors, Homo sapiens
obliterates the innocence of the Neanderthals; in Pincher Martin, the protagonist's fate is sealed, whichever of the two alternative paths the novel outlines for him we choose as the 'real' one. But this realization is also strangely comforting: if there is no redemption, then there is no more pressure to perform
. With Martin, Golding shows that we are not (somehow) inadequate to the demands of the world - to the demands of anyone
, in fact - since we cannot ever really escape our vices, or the 'darkness within'. In other words, Martin may fail to survive on the rock, but the (twist?) ending shows us this isn't his fault at all, because even avoiding the rock would have meant certain death. Prolonging existence always remains an option, of course - but it's up to the reader to judge whether it's worth it or not. Golding simply lays out the precariousness of it all.