The Book That Changed Your Life: Ronald Wright

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      The Word Vancouver festival is set for its 2016 edition with a massively inclusive lineup of authors, appearing at venues around town from September 21 to 25.

      We asked a group of these much-admired writers to tell us about their finest reading experiences. Which books put a stamp on their imaginations early on? Which ones revealed to them the full powers of the written word?

      Here’s what historian, novelist, and essayist Ronald Wright told us. Wright's first novel, A Scientific Romance, won the David Higham Prize. His latest, The Gold Eaters, is set during the Spanish invasion of Peru in the 1500s. Nonfiction works include Stolen Continents, now reissued in Penguin Modern Classics, and A Short History of Progress. He’ll read from his work at 2:50 p.m. on September 25, on the fest’s Suspension Bridge stage at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

      One of the first grown-up novels I read was William Golding’s Pincher Martin. For about half the book I took it at face value: the tale of a torpedoed seaman haunted by his past as he fights for life on a bare rock in the Atlantic. Its startling imagery and metaphysical freight must have sunk in, because a few years later, while taking a Mazatec hallucinogen in the mountains of Oaxaca, I watched my hands turn into lobster claws—the claws of Pincher Martin as he dies.  

      But Golding (who later won the Nobel) was after bigger game, as he was in Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors. This triad of great novels, written soon after World War II, examines conscience and consciousness, memory and destiny, the rise of our personality and our species; above all, forces within us we have good reason to fear, for behind us lie a million years of ruthless victories. Golding wanted to know what we are. I wanted to know that too. To him I owe an awakening of this lifelong quest and a warning that the answers are always hard-won and seldom pretty.

      Ronald Wright.
      Satva Hall