Pincher Martin: The Two Deaths of Christopher Martin Paperback – Dec 16 2002
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com
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."
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.
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?
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.
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.
Death, is it the end of the human body, the mind, or the spirit? Do we change from one being to
another, reincarnation, living different lives until we get a chance to get it right. Then maybe we , the
billions of people, have a chance to walk on clouds and hang with the angels and the main man
himself, Jesus H. Christ? Or do we just end ? Blown from an exploding sinking battleship, the death of
Christopher Martin started when he splashed into the Atlantic Ocean, swimming to a deserted island
made of rocks sticking through the ocean as a possible savior, only it prolongs the inevitable end.
Pincher Martin is fighting to survive on a rock island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean , during
World War 1. The chance of a rescue is what keeps his hope alive. Martin needs this hope of rescue to
come fast or he worries that he might go mad. He needs to outsmart the elements that are on this rock
and use everything he finds to his advantage. He needs Food, Shelter, Water, and he also needs to be
on the fore front of his sane mind and not focus on the madness that will leave him incapable of
surviving on the teeth of hell of the the rocky island.
Christopher , while stuck on this prison island, tries to make things familiar by naming the rocks .
To name something is a human trait to. The option to name things, like places for example, is to feel
more in control of their minds and Martins surroundings.
Swallowed by the sea, Martin was saved , by the island of scarce resources. Filled with jagged
rocks, poking out of the Atlantic ocean, like a human skull roaring out of the river of Styx and bursting
through Hades, only to end up as a life raft for the dear, MR. Martin. Only to find he would've been
better off keeping on his sea boots and keeping his appointment with his men down at the bottom of
the abyss. But no matter his choice to live was frantically made and now he had to endure it. Living
was his main goal, not going mad and getting rescue were also paramount. He has to make it, has a
fellow human being, he will control his life and he will not die . Breaking down was not an option.
Being crushed by the vast openness, Martin lying on his back, and feeling like Prometheus, tortured on
a rock with no hope of being rescued but maybe his soul might be saved.
His dark ride through his mind it sent Pincher on these dream like stages that called back memories
like someone was watching a episode of a drama filled with characters who are portrayed in a
favorable light but only against the darkness which drowned out the light in the room. That darkness
was Christopher Martin. A man who his own friends declared that he could play all The Seven Deadly
Sins in a play and not to need to wear the mask only a few strokes of makeup and the actor his ready to
perform in front of a crowd , in front of his friends, Nate, or the various types women in Martins life.
When he comes back from these dreams the dire circumstance he finds himself in is never ending
the sun is always there the hunger in his belly wont quit growling for food , the lack of shelter. The
discomfort of being alive is a choir in its self Pincher complains of stomach cramps, he needs to crap
to feel better. Also, he needs to feel like a man and not like an animal wearing men clothing. Martin
must keep that rebel going burning inside him it is because of this rebel Martin might have a chance to
feel comfortable on the island and get a plan together for when he is rescued.
He first creates a rock-man and he puts a shiny cap on his new friends head. To get the attention of
ships passing by. He knows he needs another visual for if a plane were to fly over the island and his
head . The Pilots in those planes would need to see something that only a man can make and not
mistake it for one of the dirty seagulls tricks. With everything ready for a rescue Martin goes through
the island and finds food , not very good food, and water , not good water either. Christopher gets ill
from eating the dangerous seafood, his one compliant his that he wishes he could take a dump and not
have him bind up in anymore discomfort.
At the end of the book the reader discovers that we've been duped Martin was never on that island.
He was either enjoying what little life he had inside his mind before the final curtain call. Was Martin
in Hell, Purgatory, or worst he was in his hell of his own making? I think he lived a life that was
carefree from an onlooker point of view, but the truth of it is Christopher Martin was giving choices
did he make the right or wrong ones? What did he based these choices on ? Morality. I think a man is
his own true heart living with silence hell come to a conclusion on what his life meant and is that fair
is that just?
In conclusion, the reader, is told that Christopher Martin never got to the rock island of hell. Instead,
he died drowning, he never did get those sea boots off of him. The book was an atheists heaven, one
man alone on a island with his thoughts and sins to comfort him for eternity.