David Gerstle's Reviews > The Inheritors

The Inheritors by William Golding
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May 07, 2011

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This is an often unsettling, but sometimes brilliant narrative told through the experiences of a small family of proto-humans. It is unsurprising - considering the main characters are Neanderthals coming into contact with Homo sapiens - that the book is ultimately quite tragic and violent.

Unlike other works of 'pre-historical fiction' (e.g. "Clan of the Cave Bear"), Golding is not overly concerned with allegorizing any modern human condition. For this same reason, "The Inheritors" should stand apart from its inevitable comparison with "Lord of the Flies". Yet, as other reviews remark, unlike Golding's more famous novel, the overall meaning of "The Inheritors" is rather unclear, its purpose ambiguous, and its general tone often struck me as emotionless.

This said, I do not think Golding was aiming for a philosophical novel here. Rather, I believe he was looking to sort out the experiences of a radically different sort of animal. The book's cleverness lies in Golding's language, which obliges the reader to grapple with a strange set of symbols and sometimes stranger interpretations. This does not necessarily make the book a 'good' noevel, but does place it among others whose language requires more attentive reading - for example, Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange" or Hoban's "Riddley Walker". The latter two novels are, however, also far superior to "The Inheritors" - both conceptually and in their linguistic 'depth'.

If you do undertake this book - whatever your motive - I recommend also an article by the linguist, M.A.K. Halliday: "Linguistic Function and Literary Style: An Inquiry into the Language of William Golding's The Inheritors" that is available in a variety of anthologies on language and style, which delineates the cleverness of Golding's method.
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