The second volume of William Golding's Sea Trilogy In a wilderness of heat, stillness and sea mists, a ball is held on a ship becalmed halfway to Australia. In this surreal, fête-like atmosphere the passengers dance and flirt, while beneath them thickets of weed like green hair spread over the hull. The sequel to Rites of Passage, Close Quarters, the second volume in Golding's acclaimed sea trilogy, is imbued with his extraordinary sense of menace. Half-mad with fear, with drink, with love and opium, everyone on this leaky, unsound hulk is 'going to pieces'. And in a nightmarish climax the very planks seem to twist themselves alive as the ship begins to come apart at the seams.
longer has any story to tell. Wrong.
The ship is severely damaged during a freak squall because of the inaction of a drunken mate. Becalmed after the storm, they drift close to another British ship bound for India whose captain reports that the war with France (subject of all those O'Brian and Forester novels) is over. The crews and passengers use the ships' proximity and lack of momentum to celebrate the end of the war with a dance. Talbot
falls in love with one of the other ship's passengers, momentarily causing him to contemplate abandoning his prospective career in the Antipodes. That momentary love affair colors his actions for the rest of the voyage.
Wind arrives suddenly and the ships must continue on their way. Golding must have done his research, for the setting rings true. Eighteenth century ships were micro-universes, at the mercy of the sea, waves and wind. There is a vivid scene as Talbot makes his way below decks toward the bow, inthe darkness of the hold, the only light supplied by swinging lanterns providing tiny beacons as the ship
rolls wildly, its motion intensified by the damaged masts. Much shorter from the wind damage, they increased the rocking motion of the ship, much as the oscillations of a pendulum are much quicker, the shorter the pendulum. A completely dismasted ship "can have a roll so brief there is no living within it," explains one of the crew.
Soon Talbot's philosophical speculations become intertwined with seasickness, sloping decks and the realization that the ship is in danger of sinking. The ship's carpenter poking around, looking for spreading planks does not increase his confidence. Nor does the movement of the deck as the waves slide under the keel. The lieutenants reveal they no longer are able to sail before the wind and must rely on the currents to drift them "downhill" (as he is told to reassure the other passengers) until they reach Australia. Unfortunately, how they get there Golding postpones to the third volume. Creep!