With an introduction by Meg Rosoff
William Golding's final novel, left in draft at his death, tells the story of a priestess of Apollo. Arieka is one of the last to prophesy at Delphi, in the shadowy years when the Romans were securing their grip on the tribes and cities of Greece. The plain, unloved daughter of a local grandee, she is rescued from the contempt and neglect of her family by her Delphic role. Her ambiguous attitude to the god and her belief in him seem to move in parallel with the decline of the god himself - but things are more complicated than they appear.
'A remarkable work ... A compelling storyteller as well as a clear-eyed philosopher of the dangerous puzzles of being human.' The Times
'A wonderful central character. The story stretches out as clean and dry and clear as the beach in Lord of the Flies.' Independent
'Feline, deadpan and at moments hilarious.' Observer
Nobel Laureate Golding, who died in 1993, explores the disturbing relationships between the mystical, the sacred and the profane in ancient Greece in his 13th and final novel. Narrated by an octogenarian prophetess named Arieka, the book proceeds in rigidly linear form to recount her life from birth onward, employing a distinctly British voice that is mildly philosophical, occasionally graphic, often self-deprecating and generally rather arch. The young Arieka is ugly and dangerously naive, and she apparently possesses mysterious powers and a propensity for mischief that make her impossible to marry off. In late adolescence, she is ``adopted'' by Ionides, the High Priest at Delphi. Worldly and somewhat cynical, Ionides manages the renowned Delphic oracle like a lucrative tourist site, often fabricating prophecies to soothe the masses. Knowing that Arieka would make an ideal Pythia--the double-tongued Lady, voice of Apollo--he takes her under his care, educating her in a massive bookroom. That Arieka herself is never fully realized as a character is partly the result of her ``occupation''--she is, after all, a medium, the human mouthpiece for the prophetic god, and not much else--and in part because she has been left in draft form amid an essentially unfinished narrative. The novel's philosophical framework is in place: questions about faith and exploitation, slavery and freedom abound, as do musings on human societies and their all-too-human perversions. But the plot (and an underdeveloped subplot in which Ionides attempts to subvert Roman rule) feels rushed and inconclusive, and its characters, while articulate, remain curiously soulless.