Books: The Mercies of Wind and Sea CLOSE QUARTERS

by William Golding Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 281 pages; $16.95

This novel, William Golding's tenth, picks up where Rites of Passage (1980) left off. Sequels ordinarily suggest the path of least resistance, the easiest way for a writer to capitalize on past accomplishments. Indeed, Rites of Passage marked one of the happier points of Golding's long career; it won the Booker Prize, England's most prestigious publishing award, and three years later its author received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Small wonder that Golding might want to extend a book that earned so much acclaim. The greater surprise is that he succeeds.

Rites of Passage ends with a bang that would seem...