Rites of Passage is Book One of a trilogy that was made into a BBC serial called To The Ends of The Earth, and it won the Booker in 1980. It's a comi-tragic sea journey and a coming-of-age tale about Mr William Talbot, a young aristocrat on his way to Australia to take up a government position procured for him by his wealthy godfather.
En route, this rather naive, pompous and yet good-hearted young man learns a lot about the world and himself. As in Lord of the Flies, an isolated community tests the boudnaries of civilised behaviour, and is found wanting. Mr Colley, an irritating and fawning parson is victimised and humiliated, subjected to barbaric rituals in the crossing-the-line ceremony, and then worse. When he wills himself to die of shame, Talbot is called on to help by Lieutenant Summers, a man who has worked his way up from the ranks - but in this decisive moment risks his career by demanding of Talbot (his superior in British class-ridden society) that he take some responsibility for what has happened.
All efforts fail, and Talbot finds himself compromised by Captain Anderson's 'enquiry'. Having boasted about his journal of events, Talbor has made Anderson aware of the need to cover up his own aggressive behaviour towards Colley - because it was that which made others on board feel that they could bully him with impunity. The enquiry is a whitewash and Talbot is left with no recourse but to lie to Colley's family about the truth.
The TV series went on with other events including the near loss of the ship in the Antarctic, boarding by another ship, a romance for Talbot and the death of the athiest Pettigrew. I'd like to read the sequels on which these are based if they're as good as this one was, deftly written in a C19th seafaring style and showing Talbot's painful self-growth towards maturity.
I finished reading and journalled this book on 23.2.2008.Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers