In my just-teens at school we read Lord of the Flies. My class was split roughly 50:50 into those who loved it and those who hated it. It was an all-girls school so the division had nothing to do with gender. A straw poll of adults who read the book at the same age (my hubby, his family and my family) showed more or less the same split.
If my reading group is anything to go by then I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill is similarly a marmite book. I’m not claiming it’s on a par with Golding’s classic but if you loved Lord of the Flies then it’s a safe bet you’ll like this, too.
When his widowed mother, Helena, is taken on as live-in house-keeper by widower Joseph Hooper, ten year old Charles Kingshaw is thrust into the company of Mr Hooper’s son, Edmund, also ten. Edmund (Hooper) resents the intrusion into his home and begins a campaign of bullying Charles (Kingshaw) from the day he arrives.
What’s interesting, though, is that this isn’t a simple case of strong boy picking on weak boy. Kingshaw is actually the more physically capable of the two. In an early encounter he attacks and punches Hooper. Later he catches a fish with his hands from a pool in Hang Wood, and climbs the walls of Leydell Castle; when Hooper does these things he slips and seriously injures himself both times.
But although Kingshaw has the physical strength, he lacks the emotional strength to cope with Hooper. He is scared by the strength of his own hatred for Hooper and what it might drive him to do. The fact that his mother is employed by Hooper’s father and they are living in Hooper’s home gives Hooper the upper hand.
Hill has written that the book is about lack of love. Both parents have lost their spouses; neither of them seem to know or relate to their own child on any meaningful level. They force the boys together and assume they are best friends because it suits them to believe it, ignoring signs to the contrary. When they decide to marry (for expediency, it seems) and to send Kingshaw to Hooper’s boarding school…I won’t give away the ending but let’s just say the four of them don’t live together happily ever after.
*** Highly recommended
I’m becoming something of a fan of Susan Hill’s work. You might be interested to read my posts on two other of her books: The Woman in Black and Dolly.