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The Inheritors (1955)

by William Golding

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1,3424410,945 (3.58)1 / 76
When the spring came the people - what was left of them - moved back by the old paths from the sea. But this year strange things were happening, terrifying things that had never happened before. Inexplicable sounds and smells; new, unimaginable creatures half glimpsed through the leaves. What the people didn't, and perhaps never would, know, was that the day of their people was already over...… (more)

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English (39)  Spanish (3)  Danish (1)  French (1)  All languages (44)
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
This is my first reading of a novel by William Golding. I heard The Inheritors discussed on the brilliant podcast Backlisted, and their appreciation of the book was borne out for me in the reading of it. Briefly, it is the story of the tragic encounter between a small band (perhaps a last remnant) of Neanderthals and a more advanced group of Homo Sapiens. Golding is so brilliant at having the reader experience the story through the senses and mind of Lok, the main character. The Neanderthals are small, hirsute, emerging from all fours and into language and the way you experience this in the reading seems nothing short of miraculous. As the encounter between the two groups unfolds, you too will experience Lok’s confusion, fear and attraction to these strange New People. In this way the book can be challenging as you try to understand what is going on, but simultaneously there is tremendous narrative drive and suspense. Plus the writing is beautiful.

I have always been fascinated by early human and prehistoric time. It’s what we come from, as though you could encounter in such stories a possible distillation of what humans are and what we could be. Or where we went wrong, or if we ever lived in a sort of Eden. The Inheritors succeeds in all these ways. I loved the book. ( )
  jdukuray | Jun 23, 2021 |
Mal leads Lok, Fa, Liku and the rest of the people from their winter base by the sea to their summer camp in the mountains near a waterfall. They have made the same journey for more years than anyone can remember, but this year it will be different. The fallen log which they have always used for crossing the river has disappeared ...

‘ “The log has gone away.”

He shut his eyes and frowned at the picture of the log. It had lain in the water from this side to that, grey and rotting. When you trod the centre you could feel the water that washed beneath you, horrible water, as deep in places as a man’s shoulder. The water was not awake like the river or the fall but asleep, spreading there to the river and waking up, stretching on the right into wildernesses of impassable swamp and thicket and bog. So sure was he of this log the people always used that he opened his eyes again, beginning to smile as if he were waking out of a dream; but the log was gone.’

The people struggle to work out how they can cross the river without the log, for these ‘people’ are not human, but Neanderthal, and new situations are difficult for them. But the absence of the log is only the first change that their journey brings. On arriving at their summer camp, they discover that there are ‘New People’ there who are different to themselves. The New People have boats and clay pots and bows and arrows, technology that is far in advance of the people’s own and which they are unable to comprehend...

This is a thoughtful book, with a very powerful ending, and it’s one that I think I will reread in the not too distant future. ( )
1 vote SandDune | Jan 24, 2021 |
This is a downright experimental novel, not so much because of the form, but the angle: Golding tries to project the mental attitude of a former human species. It is often said that he takes the perspective of a Neanderthal, and perhaps Golding may have intended that when he wrote this in 1954, but the designation is nowhere in this novel, nor is it really relevant. Because the problem is that one is inclined to mirror the current knowledge of the life of the real Neanderthals (or at least the theories on them) against what Golding makes of it, and of course you have to conclude that several of his projections are wrong.
No, I think it makes more sense to approach this novel as an alternative attempt by Golding to look at our human species, the homo sapiens, basically as he did in ‘Lord of the Flies’, his best-known book he wrote just before this one. Lord of the Flies was genial in its simplicity, and shocking in its sketch of the inhumane side of man (in this case of supposedly innocent children). In 'The Inheritors', Golding uses a more primitive human form to look from a distance at the new/different humans, in whom we clearly recognize our species, the homo sapiens. And the bottom line is clear: the supposedly more primitive species has only a limited form of communication (they talk about abstract images in the form of 'pictures'), and still moves on 4 limbs, but it forms a close-knit, caring group with warm feelings for each other; the new people on the contrary are noisy, use extensive language, have rituals and are very ingenious, but are also downright violent towards each other and towards strangers, and they also have a hierarchical relationship. That contrast is very clear, and once again very derogatory for our species.
In this novel Golding mainly uses the perspective of the earlier, more "primitive" human form, and especially of the young male Lok. Lok tries to interpret everything he sees, hears and smells as well as possible, out of a good-natured and open naiveté. Communication takes place through images, in which certain phenomena are named in a very inadequate and for us rather incorrect way. That makes the reading of this novel a heavy burden. Regularly the meaning of what was written or said, escaped me, because I did not understand exactly what was referred to, and perhaps that is what Golding intended. In that sense, the experiment certainly was successful, but it makes it very difficult for a reader to empathize with the story.
Personally, I am quite averse to romantic depictions in the genre of the 'noble savage', and that is something that really bothered me in this novel: the primitive Lok and his group are clearly presented as more 'human', more humane, then the new human species, our species. This is done without the subtlety that can be found in Lord of the Flies. In that sense, I think Golding's experiment has failed. But his attempt to recreate the mental world of another kind of human species is certainly commendable. ( )
  bookomaniac | Oct 22, 2020 |
Lacking in Description and Narratives

Few authors can match Golding's ability to tell a story and make social commentary at the same time. I don't think I've met a person who didn't like "Lord of the Flies."

Golding deserves tremendous credit for this book in that he is, as far as I know, the earliest fiction writer to tackle the subject of neanderthals. Unfortunately, "The Inheritors" fell hard for me. As other reviewers have pointed out, the narratives and descriptions in this book are hurried at best and confusing at worst. The reason was purposeful: Golding wanted to convey the thoughts and expressions of a small family tribe of neanderthals as thoughts arrived to them. In that sense, the narratives work. The neanderthals understand the natural world around them but have considerable difficulty expressing themselves in terms of geography, religion, kinship, and emotions. Whether or not neanderthals were actually this muddled is up for debate, but I had trouble dealing with this as a literary device.

The story develops slowly. It is not until about halfway threw the book that readers encounter the conflict between the neanderthals and a thinner, longer-faced race, genetically modern humans.

There are points of interest, such as how the tribe deals with a dying loved one, how one member develops an idea about agricultural, and how another member realizes he is the new leader of the group. Perhaps the reason I didn't like this book is my own fault. I appreciate having descriptions and ideas spelled out for me and constructing the geography and feelings these characters encounter was rather difficult. ( )
  mvblair | Aug 8, 2020 |
Really fascinating, but way too long. It was tedious in some parts but worth it ultimately. ( )
  barrettlucero | Aug 23, 2019 |
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We know very little of the appearance of the Neaderthal man, but this . . . seems to suggest an extreme hairiness, an ugliness, or a repulsive strangeness in his appearance over and above his low forehead, his beetle brows, his ape neck, and his inferior stature . . . Says Sir Harry Johnston, in a survey of the rise of modern man in his Views and Reviews: 'The dim racial remembrance of such gorilla-like monsters, with cunning brains, shambling gait, hairy bodies, stong teeth, and possibly canabalistic tendencies, may be the germ of the ogre in folklore . .'

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Lok was running as fast as he could.
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When the spring came the people - what was left of them - moved back by the old paths from the sea. But this year strange things were happening, terrifying things that had never happened before. Inexplicable sounds and smells; new, unimaginable creatures half glimpsed through the leaves. What the people didn't, and perhaps never would, know, was that the day of their people was already over...

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