The Inheritors - Book Review

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The Inheritors - William Golding

Imagine being an early human, early hominid, with a brain very different from yours. Trying to make sense of the world with limited references and culture, trying to explain what you see and how you are feeling and thinking to a modern day reader.

The first time I started reading The Inheritors, I gave up. The style was just too difficult to work through. Everything felt slightly off, not quite right. I couldn’t always make out what was happening. Often I had to pause and try and work out the story.

But I returned to this book, just before Christmas and ploughed through. I’m glad I did so, even though I’m still not sure of everything that happened.

The whole experience was slightly off-centre, slightly trippy as if I was understanding the world and making sense of events with only a limited amount of intellect. A little like reading under the influence of drink, lack of sleep or illness. And I guess that is exactly what William Golding was aiming for.

I won’t give any spoilers here, but essentially this is a story about Lok. He’s an early human (The book describes him as a Neanderthal, but it’s clearly wrong here as what we know about Neanderthal’s now would make a mockery of many of the characteristics and levels of development that Golding describes) Anyway, Lok is an early hominid, pre-human if you wish.

We experience the story through Lok’s eyes. We see how he lives, his culture, how he interacts with other members of his group. We hear his raw thoughts as they pop up in his head and we feel, smell and hear the world through the filter of his existence. Lok is trying to make sense of the world. And as things change he has to take on bigger responsibilities, which he struggles with. 

Things come to a head when Lok and his group, come into contact with modern humans, Homo Sapiens perhaps. He has to try and understand who these people are and what they are doing, from a limited level of cognition.

The story carries a sense of foreboding and through a lot of it I was there, next to Lok, willing him to succeed and to survive. I wanted him to be happy, but often it felt as though he was constantly on edge, worrying and fearing what was around him. Maybe this is the norm in the natural world.

Would he meet the humans? Would they be friendly or cause harm to him and his kin? Who were these invaders and what were they doing here? Were they good or evil? Would Lok succeed in looking after his group? Would Lok even survive?

As a realistic exploration of how different types of human could have interacted, The Inheritors fails. But this is due to the time in which it was written. But if read as an exploration of how these types of event could have felt to early humans of a different lineages, it massively succeeds.

If you're interested in early man, if you want to explore how you perceive things that you see every day in nature and if you want a work of fiction that challenges even the way that you physically take in information from the written page, then The Inheritors is worth a punt. But don't expect an easy ride.

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