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The Inheritors… “I have no picture of this.”

January 7, 2011

I recently finished William Golding’s The Inheritors.  William Golding, as many of you may remember from high school, wrote Lord of the Flies.  In fact, it was a friend of mine who had re-read Lord of the Flies that prompted me to explore more of Golding’s work.  That’s when I came across The Inheritors and became immediately intrigued:  The Inheritors tells the story of the last remaining tribe of Neanderthals and their first encounter with humans.  As you can assume, being human and all, it doesn’t end well for the Neanderthals.  So… SPOILER ALERT… it’s not a happy ending.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  Humans survive… but is that really a good thing?  I mean, have you ever watched Jersey Shore?  Damn.

So the best part about The Inheritors, in my mind, is also what most people think is the worst:  the style in which it is written.  Golding tells this story from the Neanderthal’s perspective… which means the vocabulary used, and the thought processes conveyed,  are that of the simple minded and unintelligent Neanderthals.  What’s so wonderful about this approach, and what so many people despise, is that, just as the main characters struggle to comprehend the world around them, so do we.   For example, upon first seeing humans (as they cross a river in a canoe), the Neanderthals  refer to them  as “bone headed” — being unfamiliar with foreheads, the canoes as “logs” — an understandable concept, and the paddles as “leaves” — their purpose totally beyond their comprehension.  Another great example of this limited vocabulary and understanding is the Neanderthal’s inability to recognize bow and arrows as a threat.  Instead of recognizing an arrow being shot at them with the intent to harm, the Neanderthals first think of them as “growing twigs” in the trees and ground around them, with red leaves (feathers) on their ends that remind them of a goose.  Eventually, the Neanderthals catch on… and although they lack a proper description of this weapon, they recognize that these “twigs” mean harm.

This style can, understandably, be frustrating.  I admit to reading an entire chapter and having no idea what happened.  But if one approaches this style as a challenge, then the book gifts its reader with a wonderful sense of accomplishment when finished (and even more so if understood!)  I can’t imagine how difficult this novel must have been to write. To simplify ones vocabulary to such an extreme, to look at the world so simply, and then tell it’s story, is quite the feat.  And, I should note, others share my opinion considering this book won The Nobel Peace Prize for Literature.

Surprisingly, portions of this book seem so familiar I can’t help but think it was once assigned reading in school.  I’d expect to have a specific memory of such an interesting concept but if I found the book as challenging to read today, I can’t imagine having any patience for it at all as a teenager.  So, I’m guessing I’ve  blocked it from memory.  Too bad.  All-in-all, The Inheritors is a fantastic and fast read.  Don’t get frustrated, just keep reading.

"I have no picture of this." - Lok

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2011 7:48 pm

    “I admit to reading an entire chapter and having no idea what happened.” that brought in my mind Yann Martel and “Life of Pi”.

    it sounds interesting, i think i will search for it.

  2. January 7, 2011 8:05 pm

    And now I must read Life of Pi. I can’t keep up!

  3. January 7, 2011 10:20 pm

    no, you have to read the new york trilogy, by paul auster. “if you expect a trio of tales along the lines of agatha christie, you’re in for a large shock.” you’ll feel amazed and cheated by auster. to mention: it has a detective central theme.

    or the tropic of cancer. my ex-boss was shocked when i said i loved it. : )) it’s like a punch in the stomach, maybe the most honest book ever written, along with the black spring. it’s not what he writes, but the way he writes.

    or pobby and dingan, by ben rice. an exquisite short story. at first i thought i ran into a story for children. : )) it’s so simple and… okay, it’s childish. 90 pages.

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