Sunday, May 23, 1999

The Inheritors

by William Golding

The story of the gentle, mostly vegetarian Neanderthal tribe that is all but obliterated in a meeting with wandering Homo sapiens.  Told almost entirely from the viewpoint of Lok, a slightly dim Neanderthal "with many words and no pictures," it’s an interesting story and a sad one.

But the power of the tale is softened considerably by Golding’s laborious, descriptive prose.  At times I found it very hard to understand what was going on, as the Homo sapiens’ activities – drinking wine, portaging boats, arguing – were described in Lok’s terms at length, with little clarity.  Discounting those passages, the novel was a good one, capped off quite amazingly with two more narrative voices.  First we see Lok as a hairy “creature,” an “it,” and then finally we hear the story from the view of one of the humans, who, it turns out, are as scared and confused as the Neanderthals, whom they consider fierce devils.  A skillful comment on how far humans have come from a natural state of innocence, acceptance and wonder.

four stars

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