Twenty-two years, 1000 words a day, 2.5 million words, two unpublished autobiographies and an unpublished autobiographical novel, many early drafts of novels – that was the mountain of papers John Carey had to climb to write his biography of William Golding. He felt he really knew his man at the end and he could literally see the author working out his books on the pages in front of him. William Golding: the Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies reveals a complex man with two sides – a loving husband and father, brave naval officer and valued teacher who “saw the seeds of all evil in his own heart”.
Carey’s own reaction to Lord of the Flies when he first read it involved the impact of the language. “I look for that feeling that poetry is happening” he said and he spoke strongly about that aspect of Golding to the hundreds of students he talked to earlier in the day.
A book reviewer for the Sunday Times over many years he collected many of his reviews into a book called Pure Pleasure where he had what was obviously the pleasure of walking around his bookshelves and pulling down things he remembered liking. A reader to his fingertips, he often remembers books by where he read them. At the moment Ian McEwen’s Solar is on the go, and he is about to start Robert Harris’s Lustrum. He loves a good thriller and recommends the Swedish duo of Sjowal and Wahloo.
He really values libraries. “I learned in libraries” he says about his teenage experience of using the Hammersmith Library to explore the world of books. “Being alone with a book seems to me an experience that has to do with knowing yourself and being with yourself and understanding yourself and inspecting your own mind”
Hear what John Carey has to say about books and reading: