This very modern take on Lord of The Flies deals in extremes. Lincoln (Link) Selkirk is the son of two behavioural science academics whose new research posts at Oxford University necessitated a move from the West Coast of America and the bonus of a free place for Link at Osney, a prestigious public school whose most impressive achievements were in sport. Prior to this, Link had been very happily-and effectively-home schooled, with not a whisper of organised sport anywhere on the deeply academic curriculum.
The twin events of his arrival at Osney and his utter failure in the athletic initiation ceremony made him the natural target for the energetic, imaginative and cruelly devised bullying which he endured for three years before declaring to his parents his intention to leave school before his GCSE examinations. His parents capitulated only after Link agreed to stay on to complete his exams and to attend a Preparation For Life Summer School to which his parents had signed him up.
Link agrees to the terms, boards the plane with his fellow students and then finds himself waking up amidst its wreckage, apparently alone on a desert island. After his initial rejoicing he is deflated by their reappearance on ‘his’ island, but his wealth of knowledge and its practical application mean that the others defer to him as he delivers the three things necessary for survival: fire, food and shelter.
The realisation of his power turns him into the sort of bully he despised at Osney School. The reader begins to loathe him just as much as the bullies who made his life so miserable for so long. He resorts to punishments like starvation, humiliation and isolation, playing his role like the worst of dictators and always laying bare his reasoning so that the reader can watch the loss of his moral compass. His attachment to Flora-unusual in a young man so solitary-makes him realise how far down the path of dictator he has gone.
The revelations at the end of the book were a shock and, in retrospect, make the reader realise how cleverly the narrative has been constructed. The plane crash was a fake, the island a social science experiment in conjunction with Nasa and the students selected for their conformity to certain stereotypes. The ultimate aim was to explore how human beings in a new and isolated environment would establish themselves as a society, ready for the eventual colonisation of Mars but the sideline was that Link discovered how to lead using his many hitherto undervalued talents and realised, too, that people can act in ways which are totally surprising.
This a multi-layered, thought-provoking book with a good deal to say about the world in which we find ourselves and it is because of this that I found myself a little let down by the inevitability-and clumsiness- of the ending. Link as the President of America was never beyond belief but that – and his marriage to Fiona – might have been more powerful left unsaid.