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Pincher Martin: The Two Deaths of Christopher Martin [Paperback]

William Golding
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 18 2002
The sole survivor of a torpedoed destroyer is miraculously cast up on a huge, barren rock in mid-Atlantic. Pitted against him are the sea, the sun, the night cold, and the terror of his isolation. At the core of this raging tale of physical and psychological violence lies Christopher Martins will to live as the sum total of his life.

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About the Author

Born in Cornwall, England, William Golding started writing at the age of seven. Though he studied natural sciences at Oxford to please his parents, he also studied English and published his first book, a collection of poems, before finishing college. He served in the Royal Navy during World War II, participating in the Normandy invasion. Golding's other novels include Lord of the Flies, The Inheritors, The Free Fall, The Spire, Rites of Passage (Booker Prize), and The Double Tongue.

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He was struggling in every direction, he was the centre of the writhing and kicking knot of his own body. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars As usual, Golding ponders the dark side July 5 2004
Format:Paperback
I'm not complaining. I think man's dark potential is always a fascinating topic and Golding is probably the best modern explorer of this theme. Pincher Martin is not only a probing psychological study of an unrepentant man who clings to life with ferocity, it is also an examination of the nature of reality.
Golding employs an old, old narrative trick with skill, steeps the narrative in symbolism, challenges readers to see something admirable in his protagonist, and sets it all on a vividly drawn islet from hell.
And if you're puzzled by the ending, go read Ambrose Bierce's short story, "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge."
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4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read. Nov. 3 2002
Format:Audio Cassette
One star taken away only because some of the material is dated. I'm an ex sailor and was enthralled from first page to last. I felt the motion of the boat, the bite of the weather and the stark reality of the island. This book proved to me Mr. Golding is a master story teller.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stark, terrible, often overwhelming piece of writing June 13 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I cannot understand why this book is not better known. A Naval officer, apparently the only survivor of a torpedoed ship, struggles to survive on Rockall, a storm-lashed mid-Atlantic rock. Gradually we see him and his situation for what they really are. The book is stark, harrowing and terrible, but an unforgettable exploration of the fallen nature of man. With Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors, it is terrifying yet somehow beautiful.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As usual, Golding ponders the dark side July 5 2004
By C. Myers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I'm not complaining. I think man's dark potential is always a fascinating topic and Golding is probably the best modern explorer of this theme. Pincher Martin is not only a probing psychological study of an unrepentant man who clings to life with ferocity, it is also an examination of the nature of reality.

Golding employs an old, old narrative trick with skill, steeps the narrative in symbolism, challenges readers to see something admirable in his protagonist, and sets it all on a vividly drawn islet from hell.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To the Depths June 27 2008
By Sirin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Christopher 'Pincher' Martin is blown from the bridge of his navy ship and struggles in the tumult of the ocean for survival. The massive lashing force of the sea threatens to consume him, but he sights a spit of boulders, and clambers onto it. He comes to realise where he is - the tiny isolated rock in the North Atlantic that only appears on the weather charts. This rock is clearly based on the real islet of Rockall, which is one of the most isolated godforsaken places on earth. Miles and miles from the nearest land, with slender chance of rescue, Martin embarks on a survival mission. He drinks water from a tiny pool, eats weeds and sea anemones for sustenance, and talks to himself to keep his consciousness going. Piece by piece, he begins to construct the picture of who he is and what he has become. Martin is revealed to be an awful figure, an aggressive and selfish sexual predator who before his blast from the bridge was planning to kill a rival suitor. Golding writes Martin to be a throughly unappealing man, who nevertheless encapsulates a hard and bitter essence of our nature.

In hard packed, spare and salty prose, Pincher Martin is a supremely elegant and harsh short novel. Mingling themes of existentialism, psychology and survival, it is in the line of Robinson Crusoe literature that cuts us adrift from our self enclosed humanist bearings and forces us to inhabit a world we won't forget easily. The trick ending will surprise many, and force the reader to consider again Golding's big and portentous ideas about consciousness and human striving.
21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stranded on Golding's Narrative Power July 25 2000
By Eric Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Golding is an incredible wordsmith. With stark realism and deep insight, he probes one man's outer and inner struggles for survival after washing up on a rock in the mid-Atlantic. I found the psychological portrail wholly believable, but I had a difficult time sympathizing with this character. He's a womanizer, a self-centered egotist. With near-animal drive, he carves out meager existence on the rock. I found very little emotional connection with Martin, and read on primarily because of Golding's narrative power.
Essentially, Golding seems to say that, brought to our lowest common denominator in a fight for life, we are all self-centered, that greed takes over. I found the argument weak because we discover that Martin was this way already. I would've liked to see a selfless person's fight for existence and the consequences of his actions.
Or maybe that's Golding's point: Martin's self-centeredness eventually corrodes his ability to survive because the motivations run shallow. Numerous true-life accounts show the struggle of men and women to rise above their base needs and extend life heroically to others. Selflessness often leads to the survival of the group, it seems, but in this book we have only one character's survival to consider.
A second reading might reveal to me more of Golding's intentions in this story, but the fact remains: Golding knows how to build word upon word until you are trapped within the dwelling of his character's minds. That alone lifts this book above the volumes of so-called literature stacked on most shelves.
Based on Golding's own standards from his other books, I cannot highly recommend this as a great story, but only as a great example of powerful wordage and characterization. I think Golding sells us short here on the premise of survival. I finished the last page with little emotional or intellectual reaction. I felt, like Martin, only blank disillusionment.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sympathetic plight turn suitable purgatory Aug. 18 2013
By 2theD - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
William Golding's debut novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), is widely known for its portrayal of the savage child, the regressive state of human nature when faced with hardship. When stranded on an island and without adults for leadership or their rules to live by, the children descend into primality, vindictiveness, group delusion, and murder. Pincher Martin is similar in this regard but set on an isolated rock with one man, his plight, his thoughts and his delusions in solitude. Where Lord of the Flies can be seen as the state of individuals in society without control, Pincher Martin could be seen as the state of individual control without society.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Drowsing in the freezing North Atlantic, Christopher Hadley Martin, temporary lieutenant, happens upon a grotesque rock, an island that appears only on weather charts. To drink there is a pool of rain water; to eat there are weeds and sea anemones. Through the long hours with only himself to talk to, Martin must try to assemble the truth of his fate, piece by terrible piece."

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His navy ship having been sunk, Martin drifts in loneliness upon the Atlantic currents prone to undulation of oceanic waves and persistence of the blurred sun above. The valleys and hills of the wet ebony expanse seamlessly morph into a rocky island, a minute outpost of life amid the bleak seascape of his ship's destruction. Assessing his clothing and pockets, Martin sets his will to triumph over idleness while evaluating the topology of his rocky pinnacle for food, drink, shelter and zenith. With everything accounted for, he begins his monotony of daily routine, sets plans for his inevitable rescue, and bides his time with pet projects: digging channels for fresh water, constructing a dummy for sign of rescue and giving himself an enema.

Succumbing to the chill of the north Atlantic and the icicle of isolation, Martin's mind begins to slip into fantasy and nostalgia, flashes of disconnectedness with reality and the present; his personality fragments and regroups, temporarily destabilizes into a vivid chaos of confusion and impossibility. Martin idly longs for the boots he cast off soon after the sinking and cherishes the limited number of other items he has on his self, including a lifejacket, foil squares and string--each item is vital to his sanity and survival.

Lethargy and boredom dance at the periphery of his forced preoccupation; each idle second allows the ennui to well up and consume him, "there was nothing to do but protect normality" (175). Yet, the pain throughout his body makes his sluggish, a signal from the center of himself to rest for recuperation. "The chill and the exhaustion spoke to him clearly. Give up, they said, lie still. Give up the thought of return, the thought of living. Break up, leave go" (45). Thus, the cyclic battle of action and inaction grips Martin's life. Each errant detour into idleness is shaken back into life by Martin's "center", his central command for survival:

There was at the centre of all the pictures and pains and voices a fact like a bar of steel, a thing--that which was so nakedly the centre of everything that it could not even examine itself. In the darkness of the skull, it existed, a darker dark, self-existent and indestructible ... The centre began to work. It endured the needle [of pain] to look sideways, put thoughts together. (45)

This center of sanity is linked to his life before the accident, before entering the navy, before making enemies; his choice of actions from his past haunt even the busiest of his moments while perched on his rocky island. The restive center of himself "that could not examine itself danced on in the world behind his eyes" (84) where his own motives are shadowed by his struggle to merely survive. Atonement for his past sins is marked by this pebbly purgatory where he is unable to be saved or enter death.

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Pincher Martin is as minimalist of a novel as you can get--one character, one location. This minimalism results in a dichotomy: while scenes, sensations and occurrences often repeat, the entire still remains intense and somewhat dynamic. Martin bides his time by doing little construction projects on his islet--a channel for fresh water and a stone body to signal for help--but the majority of his time is seemingly spent scurrying around the same islet discovering landmarks of crevices, cliffs and crannies. His sense of wonder borders on naivety while his mind slips further into a delirium ripe for his undoing.

A simple Wikipedia search for Pincher Martin reveals that the description of the isolated islet fits the features of Rockall, about 600 kilometers WNW of Glasgow. Martin partitions the topology of the rock, each part with specific use or personal history. As Martin's scurries about the rock on his daily chores, the reader can oddly visualize the constricting clefts in the rock and barren winds outside of the rock. Then, when Martin splits from his reality, the reader also takes a trip from the islet to either his tainted past or his tainted perceptions.

There are very limited cues as to the passing of time on the island. Martin mentions not having had a bowel movement for a week, but the critical incidences of his stony abode are made without notation. Therefore, the reader can't identify with Martin's into sanity because it would seem unlikely that he would lapse into delirium in only a matter of days. Is hypothermia advancing his mental decay? Have more days or weeks actually passed than mentioned? Was his psyche already unstable? Relating a fourth possibility in the list, which crossed my mind when reading, would be a spoiler.

I don't necessarily subscribe to the idea that the book is simplistically about "the state of individual control without society", as mentioned in the introduction. On hindsight, the levels of depth in Martin's purgatory are as numerous as Dante's circles of hell. Which circle of hell does Rockall represent for Martin? As his concentration drifts, he relives moments in his past which point to the particular sins of his personal guilt. Martin is guilty of three of these sins, but which damns him the most: (1) The second circle of lust where he's blown by endless winds?; (2) The fifth level of anger where he battles eternally with rage on the water of Styx?; or (3) The ninth level of treachery where he becomes coldly immobile?

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Ignore any hype you hear or read of the reportedly shocking twist at the conclusion. Rarely am I shocked or awed by any conclusion, but I can appreciate the final twists of a novel like a connoisseur of cigars--with a sullen nod, tight-lipped grin, and softly-lidded eyes. Something mentally internal is definitely ratcheted when confronted by an ingenious twist or suitable conclusion. This is exactly what my general state of sensation felt when reading the final pages of Pincher Martin--satisfaction.
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