It’s tough at the top. William Golding, Britain’s first Nobel laureate in fiction since Galsworthy, must know that by now, having read the reviews of The Paper Men. This, Golding’s most recent novel, presents the (fairly well worn) story of an elderly distinguished writer, Barclay, pursued by a voracious academic dunderhead who wants to scoop the author’s biographical rights. The title of the book refers to the insubstantial vicarious nature of both men’s lives; and much of Golding’s satire is directed at the American tradition which allows the subject of so many books to be books themselves. It is therefore, I imagine, with dismay that Golding realized his novel was being discussed as anything but the story it is. Because of Golding’s fame the book is in a league where the comparisons made, the explanations offered, the expectations recorded and conclusions reached resemble disturbingly the kind of Eng Lit pumped out by the aforementioned dunderhead. The critics have made up more than their own paperweight in speculation and the idle search for meaning.
Writing in the Observer, Anthony Burgess just saves himself from the danger and describes it with a neat side step:
When a piece of fiction seems banal but its author is distinguished and universally honoured, we are compelled to take second and third looks at it, prepared to be convinced that