Darkness Visible

ISBN: 0374530513
ISBN 13: 9780374530518
By: William Golding A.S. Byatt

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About this book

A reissue of the tour de force by the Nobel laureate that is "a vision of elemental reality so vivid we seem to hallucinate the scenes" (The New York Times Book Review). It opens during the London blitz, when a naked child steps out of an all-consuming fire; that child, Matty, becomes a wanderer and a seeker. Two more lost children await him, twins as exquisite as they are loveless. In a final conflagration, William Golding's book lights up both the inner and outer darknesses of our time.

Reader's Thoughts


They gave Golding the Nobel Prize in 83? Must have been a dearth of contenders. This 60s novel of ideas is actually tedious, with a narrative so laden with "meaning" that the story is lost. Ugh. Penance. Darkness visible indeed.


So this is the last of the whole inherent-blackness-of-the-human-soul reading list I've inadvertently embarked upon lately. I don't know what I was expecting, picking up a book that takes its title from Milton's famously oxymoronic description of hellfire. Maybe I need to read, you know, The Devil Wears Prada, or something. I'm giving myself the heebie jeebies over here. Or maybe I'll just re-read Jimmy Corrigan again while I listen to Xiu Xiu on repeat and induce some sort of angsty catatonia. Onward to the center of the sun!

Luis Felipe

Un libro con un comienzo excelente: surge de las llamas Matty, un personaje sin pasado, desfigurado, casi mudo, cuya repulsiva presencia es narrada por Golding con un definido tono de misterio. Luego llega Sophy, extraña y bella criatura que sólo "entra" al mundo mediante actos de crueldad. Pero este contrapunto de seres raros e imprevisibles, es culminado de manera torpe, apresurada, dejando un gusto de incompletud.

Stephen Bird

I recently read "Lord of the Flies" and then happened upon this lesser-known book by William Golding. I am a slow reader, but I read this novel surprisingly quickly, and was drawn in and eventually absorbed by the characters, their inner dialogues and their private universes. Matty, the "Anti-Hero/Martyr", represents many things for me--a prophet in the wilderness, a shaman, a clown, whom I would not consider to be evil; he is not vengeful, violent, nor is he vindictive. And yet in his silence, he can be frightening; he commits "a grievous deed" for which he turns to the Bible, and then to spirits/spiritual guides, in a quest for redemption. There is a dreamy, surreal aspect to the prose, that occasionally left me confused as to the exact nature of whatever reality was being described at a particular moment; for example, near the end of the book--is Sophy (one of two "evil twins") actually brutalizing the young boy that has been kidnapped for her, or only suffering from criminal delusions of grandeur? Is she merely imagining this violence? I am impressed with the way Golding develops both the inner and outer lives of the two little girls (Sophy and Toni), who start out innocently enough as children. Sophy and Toni grow up in an emotional vacuum, nursing dangerous fantasies, as a result of their father's neglect. Nevertheless--in the end, both girls make their choices about the type of individuals they want to be. Certainly the traumatic childhoods of Sophy and Toni contribute to their respective downward spirals into delinquency. [And yet others, who in real life come from scarier circumstances than these two little girls, can go on to accomplishment, achievement and greatness in their adult lives.] Sophy and Toni are both very bright girls; at least metaphorically, the twins resemble Regan and Goneril from Shakespeare's "King Lear", minus Cordelia. Matty chooses his destiny as well; the difference being that I can sympathize with Matty, as he, and his life, has been so literally "scarred" from the beginning. Like Quasimodo, the archetypal "ugly monster" often has the biggest heart. Matty's deformity also makes him stronger than either Sophy or Toni; he is resiliently independent from a very young age. And as reclusive and mysterious as Matty is--I believe him to be compassionate. After reading this book, which contains some "Dickensian" aspects (particularly the character of Mr. Pedigree), in my understanding of the term--I can see why Golding became a Nobel laureate. Not only by means of his intellectual and creative gifts, but also via the empathy and understanding he shows for his characters. All of which Golding is able to elucidate in a prose that is often poetic, and explicit when necessary (surely this was much easier to do in 1979 when this book was published, then it would have been in 1954 when "Lord of the Flies" was published). I am looking forward to reading Golding's second novel, "The Inheritors". There is a lot to be learned from this multi-faceted writer.

David B

A man disfigured as a boy in the fires of WWII London and a beautiful young woman represent polar opposites of the spiritual spectrum, the first a literal-minded social outcast who believes himself to be in communion with holy spirits and undergoes great sacrifice in order to do their bidding and the second a believer in chaotic chance who exploits herself and others in order to satisfy her need for autonomy.William Golding is on a serious mission here. He is concerned with questions of judgment, morality, community, and spirituality, but he denies the possibility of easy answers. The result is a dense novel, generally difficult, sometimes entertaining, written in prose that I found to be needlessly verbose. It is an interesting book, but I did not find the main characters to be convincing as individuals so much as vehicles for the author's explorations of the extremes of human nature. Some of the secondary characters, particularly the bookseller Sim Goodchild and the pedophile Mr. Pedigree, were more compelling. That they figure prominently in the conclusion is to the novel's credit.


Weird book, course William Golding doesn't write bland literature! I am 10 pages from the end and can't figure the point of the book other than weird things happen, child molesters exist, and people can be monstrous. It's not an offensive book, and the only thing that would make it a difficult read is that I can't figure out the 'point'. It's a couple of biopics of people who's lives cross this poor strange man who was blown up or burnt in the London Blitz. The cover says it's a mystery, but well, it's a mystery that there's no attempt to solve. At the time, due to his Lord of the Flies book, this book may have been more esteemed, but it just seems like a diary of people who aren't very nice, mixed in with one or two who are. Times have changed, and the monsters in this book may have been more monstrous at the time, when child molesting and gangster types were a lot rarer.I think he was intending to shock, but it's lost it's shock value with the degradation of Western Culture. It's an interesting read and maybe gave me validation that a lot of bad things in my culture had it's roots in the 60's, not in the 80's that I thought.It's very well written, smooth and gentle and the insinuations of insight is interesting.


Does anyone remember the moment when Sebastian from The Neverending Story first handles the mysterious book in the creepy attic of his school? That's how I felt when I first picked up this book - intrigued, particularly by the allusion to Paradise Lost in the title, but also a little apprehensive, like I was getting in over my head. A senior of mine who decided to read this book with me as part of an extra credit opportunity said that when she approached the circulation desk at the library to check this book out, the old librarian exclaimed, "Not a soul has checked this book out in over ten years!" So you can imagine my curiosity.But unlike Sebastian's story, which ends with him saving an enchanted world from an evil wolf and its partner in crime, "The Nothing," mine ended with me feeling super creeped out in my bed at midnight, wondering if I had scarred my mind forever.I would have given this book 5 stars if it weren't for one thing. I loved the theme of the book, which deals with the "are we inherently good or evil" question - one I always enjoy in literature. The writing is quite compelling and the characters are truly memorable. But...the book is just too disturbing, even for me! And the fact that I had recommended this book to teens before having finished it myself certainly didn't help! Every time I got to one of the many dark and horrible moments in the novel, I just pictured some mother calling me, demanding to know why I was exposing such filth to her son. I think Golding really does go a little overboard in an effort to make the darkness visible to us. If the novel had been more subtle in that department, I know I would have enjoyed it more.If, like me, you enjoy books like Heart of Darkness, The Stranger and Lord of the Flies, you might like this one too. But, I'm warning you...this contains passages you do not want to talk about with your mom...and especially not with teens!!!


Darkness Visible sounded like an interesting title. However, the book failed to live up to its name. It's not a good sign when you've read two thirds of a novel and still have no idea what it's about. Well, in the end the three separate storylines did somewhat come together, but it was still messy. And I didn't like the sparse dialogue, it was too much like just random stream of consciousness.


This novel begins with a child emerging from a fire caused by German bombs in World War II London. Anonymous and badly disfigured, the child will be named Matty and will become one of the central characters in Nobel laureate William Golding's disturbing 1979 novel. Matty asks the questions "Who am I," "What am I," and finally "What am I to do." His lonely journey through life, with only a Bible for a companion, brings him into contact with a number of other characters who, though not scarred physically, are indeed scarred psychologically. Perhaps the most memorable of these are Mr. Pedigree, a compulsive pedophile, who becomes a brilliant but sad case study of obsession, and Sophy, a young woman who thinks constantly of "the cone of black light" that extends from the back of one's head into infinity--that trail of darkness we drag behind us. Matty is clearly symbolic of the modern man who no longer knows what or who he is but can sprinkle his language with fragments of apocalyptic biblical rhetoric, even if the latter is sometimes incoherent. Other characters too reflect various facets of a world gone awry. The Cornwall-born Golding, as all readers of Lord of the Flies know, is more than a little pessimistic about humanity. This novel of several story lines does not weave together at the end as tightly as I had expected. Nevertheless, for an intensely dark but acute vision of modern man, "Darkness Visible" is recommended. And for someone like me, who grew up with the prose of the King James Bible, Matty's Bible-soaked language is at times distressing and at times downright funny.


Good and evil?Light and darkness?damnation and redemption?All that's in there.This is one that I don't fully agree with on a philosophical level, but still found it intriguing. There are some pretty weird scenes in here. Especially when the guy who's had 1/2 his body burned up sees some guy with chains rising out of a swamp.


Loved the writing, the mystical touch, but not really sure what happened. I don't mind reading a novel that doesn't answer all the questions it raises, but I still don't understand all the pieces. Need to read some criticism on this one I think


Hellfire is a potent symbol and William Golding makes liberal use of it in his brooding and pessimistic 1979 masterpiece Darkness Visible. As a child Matty Septimus Windgrove (or Windrove, or Windrake--the reader is never offered a solution to the mystery of his name) emerges disfigured from a burning building during the London Blitz and responds to the scars and markings he is left with by withdrawing from the society that rejects him for being physically unappealing. At school he unintentionally exposes Mr. Pedigree, the only teacher who pretends to tolerate him, as a pederast. Mr. Pedigree loses his position and guilt for being the cause of this plagues Matty for the rest of his days. In adulthood he embarks on a quasi-spiritual quest (which takes him to Australia and then back to England) for meaning—or something like it—a quest that consumes the remainder of his life. Matty's inept and largely ineffectual goodness finds its moral antithesis in the Stanhope twins, Toni and Sophy. These two begin life as deceptively angelic little girls who grow up to become seductively attractive young women, and who respond to their inauspicious upbringing (absent mother, neglectful philandering father) by embracing evil. Toni leaves home to take up a career as a political terrorist. Sophy flees a mundane existence for crime, starting out in desultory fashion as a prostitute before graduating to petty larceny and then hatching a scheme to kidnap a boy whose wealthy parents will surely pay a king's ransom to get him back. Unfortunately, the men she enlists to help carry off the plan are clods and everything goes awry, foiled in part by Matty, whose life ends as it began: in flames. Golding's characters are never in a position to clearly articulate or even reflect upon what they are seeking. In a series of exquisitely cryptic journal entries Matty writes about beings (spirits?) that visit him, but how they influence him and the things he does is unclear. Sophy does not seem necessarily determined to become a criminal; crime is simply a default response to the intolerable boredom that everyday life inflicts upon her. In the end, Darkness Visible comes across as an indictment, but of what exactly? Golding judges neither his characters nor their actions. Mr. Pedigree, though loathsome, is depicted as a pathetic victim of perverse impulses that nature has made it impossible for him to resist. He does not want to be this way, but since he can't do anything about it he might as well make the most of it. The same could be said of Matty and Sophy. Each responds to the life they are given in the only way they know how. But is the reader expected to admire Matty’s heroism and condemn Sophy’s wickedness? In the psychologically complex and morally ambiguous world that William Golding conjures up in this novel, that seems far too simple-minded a response.


I came to this after seeing Lars Iyer describe it as one of a handful of 'half-mad' modern English novels. Well, he's not wrong - though I'd question his use of 'half'. It's a damaged book, full of intensities, characterised by a kind of warped, flailing, questing - a search for answers, answers to questions that are, at best, incoherent, at worst, non-existent. "We’re all mad, the whole damned race. We’re wrapped in illusions, delusions, confusions about the penetrability of partitions, we’re all mad and in solitary confinement.” “We think we know.” “Know? That’s worse than an atom bomb, and always was."


...except out of morbid fascination. I remember this book, I just stumbled over it when I was reading someone else's review. I'd forgotten this book, it's literally been over ten years since I read it. I read it because the library had it and I'd of course read LOTF, and I wondered what another book by this guy might be like. Ugh. Portentious, bleak, kind of absurd and random and overly allegorical, boomfog at its finest. I do remember one thing, though, which stuck with me then and now for its bald, bright-shining METAPHOR AlERT or, worse, GREAT STATEMENT UPON THE HUMAN RACE COMING UP... It's this scene where two characters are having sex for the first time. They're, like, numb or something because I remember what was immediately interesting to my 15-yr old mind came across as some kind of drab, trying-too-hard version of REAL LITERATURE... Anyway the girl character sort of is described (already a problem there) as enjoying it in an odd, sort of abstract way, calling it a "faint, ring-shaped pleasure"...which took me awhile to get, to be honest, but now that I feel like I've got it I don't feel like I've experienced anything at all... Lots of burning, anguish, freaky-deaky-deaky-doo...I remember the title was immediately gripping, also why I probably read it in the first place. I mean, how can darkness be 'visible'? Ooh, zen riddle approacheth. But seriously, I do remember thinking about that one for a while. I mean, you can SEE darkness, can't you? I mean, if you're looking at it then it's something you can see----or, is it that darkness is the emptiness filling the void of what you can't see? Poetically it somehow makes so much potent, counter-intuitive sense...years later, quite by accident, I stumbled over the phrase in a moment of "Paradise Lost"; I shook my head, blinked my eyes, and sighed with deep satisfaction. Cover's pretty haunting, too, isn't it?

Víctor Sampayo

Uf, novela oscura, inquietante, divertida por momentos, en la que convive una especie de mesianismo versus la psicología del perfecto terrorista: el exceso de ideas en medio de una absoluta vacuidad interior, malograda gracias al convencimiento de un objetivo en la vida por parte del ser menos pensado...

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