Todd, Randy, and Carter are teenagers, grammar school boys who come across a younger boy while roaming the countryside around their commuter town. They decide to hold him hostage in a small cave in an abandoned quarry and then consider what to do next. In Lord of the Flies, William Golding needed a plane crash and a tropical island to bring out the capacity for violence and evil in his English schoolboys. Jane White, a mother and housewife living in Godalming when she wrote Quarry , needed only a chance encounter in fields not unlike those around her own development.
Quarry is among the most unsettling novels of its time. White’s teenaged kidnappers ride bikes, worry about exams, and have to get home in time for supper. Yet they also imprison and torture another boy with the cold calculating objectivity that Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.” Written in cool, realistic prose, Quarry creates a situation that seems fantastic and too horrifying to be true yet sustains an atmosphere of normality that only increases its power to shock. It is both a gripping and believable account of a crime and a parable filled with complex symbolism. “Nothing since A High Wind in Jamaica probes the depths of innocence with such terror and finesse as Jane White’s novel,” declared Newsday.