A high point of my month’s reading was William Golding’s second novel The Inheritors (1955), which followed after his first and of course most successful novel, Lord of the Flies. I somehow have two copies, both Faber & Faber, with some pretty great cover illustrations by Paul Hogarth (L) & Neil Gower (R).
The novel is structured around the idea of a Neanderthal tribe coming into contact with a more advanced tribe, presumably the first humans, or representative of such. It’s not difficult to read; it’s really quite a masterpiece, and it’s about the birth of the human race even. Therefore, I highly recommend it. I’ll leave off with a citation from the penultimate paragraph of John Carey’s introduction to the centenary edition which I think rightly sums up Golding’s achievement.
The greatness of The Inheritors does not depend on Golding imagining what Neanderthals might have been like. It depends on the language he fashions to express it. He accepts the colossal stylistic challenge of seeing everything from a Neanderthal point of view. By feats of language that are at first bewildering he takes us inside a being whose senses, especially smell and hearing, are acute, but who cannot connect sensations into a train of thought. This is a being whose awareness is a stream of metaphors and for whom everything is alive. Intricate verbal manoeuvres force us to share the adventures – and the pathos and the tragedy – of a consciousness that is fearless, harmless, loving, minutely observant and incapable of understanding anything.